During my first college tour at Binghamton University, I felt that I was settling. Growing up in a “prestigious” school district, I was under the pressure of my peers and teachers to achieve the highest grades, in the most advanced classes, while participating in athletics and other niche extracurriculars. The goal in high school was not to discover your interests, but to make sure that you were on par with, or excelling past, your peers so that you would receive an acceptance from your top college.

Following an underwhelming college admissions cycle where my peers’ family legacies and family connections outcompeted my application, I felt defeated. I had applied to BU on a whim and it was one of three schools I had been accepted to. After I visited BU for the first time, I decided it was where I was going to go to college. Not because I liked the campus, the atmosphere or the area, but because the science, technology, engineering and technology (STEM) programs and the financial aid that I was offered made it the best option for my situation.

I had convinced myself that I was settling for a suboptimal college experience by attending BU because of the skewed perception of college that was defined by my high school. My disinterest continued through housing sign-ups and orientation until I moved into my freshman dorm. I realized that I had to take advantage and create opportunities for myself that would make my college experience worth it. One of those opportunities was working for Pipe Dream.

When I got to BU, I knew that I had to join an organization to make the best use of my time — something that was drilled into me from high school. In high school, I had worked for the newspaper and enjoyed it, so I decided I would join Pipe Dream.

Working for Pipe Dream for the past four years has defined my college experience. Each year that I was part of the organization, I took advantage of every opportunity I could to make my role in Pipe Dream more meaningful. I somehow worked myself up from a contributing photographer my freshman year to the managing editor my senior year in the middle of a global pandemic. Entering college on the premed track, I never saw myself having one of the most important roles at the University’s student-run newspaper.

Had I entered college with the closed-minded teenage angst I experienced my senior year of high school, I likely would not have seen the value in joining an organization so far removed from my major and career path. I created my own opportunities when I saw very few, and I am very thankful to my younger self for making those choices. In college, I learned to always see the positive in any negative circumstance and have faith that everything happens for a reason. My time at BU has been defined not only by the opportunities I took advantage of and created for myself, but also by the people who have supported me along the way.

To my closest BU friends, Olivia, Sid, Mia, Kayla, Stephany and Vic, I am thankful that our paths crossed in college. You have supported me through the past four years as roommates and teammates, and as sappy as it may seem, my most fond college experiences involve you. I hope our paths continue to cross into the future.

To my home friends, Kyle, Aarti, Ashley, Milena, Soar, Karina, Arvind, Maria and Jillian, all of you have shown to me that constant contact is not necessary to maintain a meaningful relationship. Each of you continue to show me support and love no matter the distance or circumstance.

To my academic mentors, Dr. Jant, Dr. Kissling, Dr. Armstrong and Dr. Tong, thank you for your mentorship and guidance. My time working for all of you has helped shape me into the student, researcher and teaching assistant I am today. I am grateful for the opportunities you have provided me to help facilitate my learning and encourage me to think critically and analytically.

To my family, Я вас люблю. Спасибо за вашу постоянную поддержку и любовь.

To my Pipe Dream mentors, Sam, Katy, Sasha, Bridget and Emily, you guys have encouraged and supported my Pipe Dream endeavors, big and small. I view you as the older siblings I never had and your guidance has helped me make sense of senseless situations.

To the 2020-2021 Pipe Dream staff, all of you have demonstrated your adaptability and perseverance despite all of the unprecedented events of the past year. I wish you all the best of luck in the future.

Sarah and Ciara, you two will do a phenomenal job next year. I am confident in your abilities as leaders, editors and social butterflies. Always remember that Jeremy and I are here to support and help you through any conventional or unconventional situation. Your future is bright, and remember to just take everything day by day.

Jeremy, I cannot find words to describe how much our friendship means to me. The friendship we have created in the past year through legal hardships, mutual distaste for poor writing and overall frustration was one of the few positives to come from the pandemic. You are my rock. In the words of SpongeBob SquarePants, “It’s not just a boulder, it’s a rock.” Even though we’ll be far away from each other in the near future, I am always here for you.

Ariel Kachuro is a senior double-majoring in psychology and biology and is managing editor. She was assistant photo editor from 2018-2019 and photo editor from 2019-2020.