Before coming to Binghamton University, I made a list of things that I wanted to do in college. Some items were simple, like “develop a taste in music.” Another goal I had was to publicly “come out.” I grew up in a small conservative town with a religious family, and so in high school, I was afraid to tell people I was gay. However, I remember mentioning my boyfriend to an acquaintance during my first week at BU and being surprised by her casual reaction. I quickly came to understand the accepting nature of most people at BU, and I soon stopped hiding who I was. My journey to eventually defining myself as queer was my first step to living authentically. Over my three years at BU, authenticity is the first thing that I learned leads to the most fun, memorable and intense moments in life.

For me, authenticity is not just about living without secrets — living authentically is a process of self-realization where, upon getting to know yourself better, you come to accept and embrace elements of who you are. I joined an a cappella group called the Binghamton Crosbys during my freshman year. At the time, the Crosbys were an all-male group, but they have since changed to a tenor, bass and baritone group. Growing up, I did not feel accepted in predominantly straight male spaces, but with the Crosbys, I felt like I belonged. I didn’t try to change who I was like I did in high school, but I instead lived authentically, and this group of people celebrated me for that.

The next thing I developed at BU was a mature curiosity. I didn’t know what research was in high school. Since coming to BU, I have been a part of several different research projects, and I became the lab manager of the BU Human Sexualities Research Lab. This past year, I led a study that examined how BU students were reacting to COVID-19, and this project helped me learn about how asking the right questions is what makes learning fun. Learning during lectures lays necessary knowledge foundations, but discovering new information is what defines academia.

The last thing that I have come to understand is compassion. I think I came to college with the romanticized idea that I would meet all my lifelong friends here. While many of my friendships and relationships have been amazing, others have been fleeting. At first, I found myself disappointed that one close friendship faded or that a relationship failed. College is this weird thing where we are all on separate journeys to find ourselves, but we all do that together. When I came to accept the temporal inevitability of college relationships, I found peace in knowing that even though some of my connections ended sooner than I may have anticipated, all good things come to an end. Overall, it takes compassion to accept that someone is moving in a different direction than you are. This requires compassion because you must accept them for who they are during this moment in their life, and you must love yourself for who you are.

My time at BU has been truly transformative. Late nights in the library, trips to “Nowl” with friends and adventures to Downtown Binghamton are the surface-level components of my experience. But my deeper truth has involved authenticity, curiosity and compassion. I am very grateful for my three years at BU, and I am excited about my next steps. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my experience — without you, I would not be who I am today. As I throw my cap this week, I will smile while reflecting on these years and the love, truth and knowledge I have gained.

Jonathan Gaughan is a senior majoring in integrative neuroscience.