Out of all of the many Pipe Dream articles I’ve written, this has been one of the hardest to start and finish.

I mean, what am I supposed to say? Past senior columns are flooded with relatable anecdotes, coming-of-age realizations and sappy messages that tell us it’s going to be okay. But when I reflect on my four years here, I question whether my story of perseverance and self-discovery is inspiring or relatable enough to share.

To speak candidly, college has been one of the most difficult times of my entire life. College did teach me about myself, but it did it by hurling me off a cliff into shark-infested water, leaving me to fend for myself. For the first time, I had unalloyed independence and unfiltered exposure, and the lessons it taught me changed my life.

I came into college with rigid expectations. My parents immigrated from Montenegro to Brooklyn, New York, with the hope of a better life. To them, the “American dream” meant working as hard as possible to get the highest-paying job within the most respectable career field — an ideology that I let guide me and my choices. In high school, I had straight As, took enough AP credits to graduate from college a year early if I wanted to and was the lead in my senior play. It was the classic overachieving, rule-following older daughter of immigrant parents who would make college her bitch storyline. College was the last hoorah, and what I did during it would make or break my dream. Of course I was going to get a six-figure job right out of graduation (lol), and the only way to do that was with a 4.0 GPA, a plethora of extracurriculars and the perfect internship.

I’ll tell you right now that my foolproof plan did not hold up.

When I got here, I wasn’t drowning in assignments and exams — I was drowning in revelations, self-doubt and confusion. To my surprise, college introduced me to depression, not career-building opportunities. The pressure to do my best academically was almost immediately overshadowed by my loss of identity, and it was debilitating.

My depression and anxiety exposed me to adversities in my personal life that I was unable to acknowledge, let alone confront, before being on my own. The generational trauma my parents unintentionally brought over was finally making itself known. My facade of confidence built on academic achievements and outside praise was crumbling. Suddenly, I had no energy to pursue my once seemingly tangible dream, crushed under the weight of thoughts that ate away at me and everything I thought was true.

I replaced As with Cs and Bs. My anxiety had reached such a high that I couldn’t participate in even one internship fair or group discussion. I had no interest in business administration, and with that, no interest in any of the classes I was taking or the work I was supposed to be doing. No perfect GPA. No internships. No clubs. I had done none of the things I thought college was for, and it only confirmed the thoughts that had begun this downward spiral.

So what now? The star student wasn’t a star student after all. What does that make of me?

I signed up for Pipe Dream my second semester of sophomore year. I needed something to pull me out of my pit of despair, and the newspaper seemed manageable. Pipe Dream was the first club I joined during my time at BU, and I am so thankful I did. I decided to join News, and it challenged me in all the ways I didn’t know I needed. For one, I had to actually leave my room, but I also had to attend events, conduct interviews (which at the time were really scary) and engage myself in a way that wasn’t motivated by a good grade or praise. I enjoyed writing articles, and I felt inspired for the first time in a long time.

I started taking classes based on interest, not the potential career benefits they may offer. I minored in graphic design for a bit my junior year and let myself explore the drawing, painting and design classes it offered. I found out that I’m surprisingly good at still-life drawing and color theory. I took writing classes and classes about gender studies and race. At this point, I had let go of who I thought I was supposed to be. My disciplined, scholarly high school self was long gone, and I was now focused on finding the things that made me feel good, inspired and fulfilled. I began therapy for the first time to address the adversities and traumas that rerouted my course. I was creating my foundation here at Binghamton University, and it had everything to do with understanding who I am and what I want from the world.

I was asked to be the Assistant News Editor for Pipe Dream during my junior year. I met some of the most dedicated and inspiring people in my life and developed a craft I never thought I’d practice. That same year, I joined the BU Marketing Association as their social media manager. My art classes unlocked a new part of me, and I wanted to continue creating graphics and posters with the design software I had learned to use. I interned as a writer and graphic designer for a pop culture magazine in New York City this past summer, purely because I thought I’d enjoy it. I’ve been in therapy for over a year now, and the benefits it has had on my mental health have been completely life-changing.

I’m graduating now with almost none of the skills or experience I thought I’d be leaving with when I got here four years ago. But what I’ve learned about myself and my place in this world has been more valuable and necessary than any grade, club or job could have been. I redefined success during my time here, and it is not climbing the corporate ladder or a six-figure job. Now I know that happiness, satisfaction and creativity are far more important to me than the salary I’ll receive. I know that I want to make a change in the world, and I’ll be patient and understanding with myself as I do it. I still have no idea what I will do once I’m out of here, but I am more prepared and confident in my abilities and choices than I have ever been. Sometimes life has a different plan for you, and that’s ok. Just keep swimming, and you’ll end up where you have to be.

OK, now to the thank you’s.

To my family: I love you guys so much. No matter what, I know what I do will make you proud. Everything is for you guys.

To Athina: The fact that we are about to live together for the fifth year in a row is astounding, and I am so thankful we are. My best friend since the first day of freshman year, I cannot imagine what this experience would have been like without you. Your unconditional love and support has made all the difference these past four years. I loveeee you Tina Babygirl 🙂

To Cam: The surprise that changed my world, I wish you came into my life earlier. The unconditional love and understanding you have given me in the past year has been magical. I am constantly in awe of your mind and how you view the world, and I just hope it continues to rub off on me. You have made me so happy and have shown me what it means to be a good person. I love you so much, thank you for everything.

To Ben and Lukas: I don’t think I would have ever, ever gotten here if it wasn’t for you guys. My tutors and confidants, thank you for being so kind and supportive and making our business classes even the tiniest bit more bearable. I will forever be indebted to you both for our friendship, and I can’t wait to see what you guys do in the future.

To Hamza: Thank you for giving me a chance. I don’t think you know how much of an impact joining Pipe Dream has had on me, but if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t even be writing this! Your work and determination has inspired me since our first production, and I accredit so much of what I have learned here to you.

To Pipe Dream and my News team: Thank you for changing the directory of my life. Being a part of this team has been so fulfilling and accomplishing, and I am going to miss our time together so much. You are some of the most capable people I have ever met, I’m so confident in your ability to take the newspaper to a new level.

Melissa Cosovic is a senior majoring in business administration and is an assistant news editor.