The moment my senior year began, I felt like I was running out of time. All around me, I was surrounded by people who were both excited to start adulthood and satisfied with the memories and experiences under their belt. In comparison, I was starting to fear that I had wasted what should’ve been a life-changing experience. Unlike my peers, I wasn’t deeply involved in any club — I spent most of my time outside of class alone, and I certainly had no amazing epiphanies about my career or purpose. When I looked back on all my regrets, the culprit behind my lack of follow-through was always the same — fear. Fear to commit, fear of rejection, fear that it wouldn’t work out perfectly, so I shouldn’t even bother trying. I was living by the rule of all or nothing and, nearly four years later, ended up with mostly the latter.

Still, I had two semesters left, and I was determined to do something, anything, to make me feel like my college years weren’t a complete failure. That’s where Pipe Dream comes in. I had joined the paper as an Arts & Culture contributor at the start of my junior year, but to tell you the truth, I didn’t “contribute” much of anything. Over the course of two semesters, I wrote a grand total of two articles and attended about the same number of meetings. So when Pipe Dream sent out an email early in the semester asking for writers to apply as interns, I felt laughably unqualified. Nonetheless, I managed to swallow my apprehension and apply anyway. The rest is history.

It’s still amazing to me how drastically different my Pipe Dream experience was once I became an intern. Suddenly, I was regularly at the heart of a bustling community of writers. Every Sunday, the Arts & Culture team and I got to know each other while we reviewed a fresh batch of exciting articles. I was inspired to write more, gradually raising my measly two-article count to a respectable 17 (if you’re reading this, make that 18). I remember that during my first meeting in the fall, I shocked myself when I volunteered for a feature article about a local mural art project. It was a piece I would’ve never taken on if I had seen it in the Pipe Dream email a year prior. Now that I was an intern, though, I felt obligated to push myself. To this day, it’s one of my favorite pieces I’ve written. At this point in my life, I’ve realized it’s not failure I should fear — it’s stagnancy. Writing the amount I did this year required me to weather a lot of self-doubt, but I’m so grateful I did because I know my skills and voice have strengthened because of it.

Being a part of Pipe Dream didn’t just make me a better writer. It also gifted me with a feeling of belonging that I had been desperately craving since I’d started college — a community I could proudly claim to love and be a part of. When I was a contributor, I never went to any events because I didn’t know anyone well enough and was too shy to change that. But last November, I didn’t hesitate to go to the club’s formal, and it’s one of my best Binghamton memories.

Of course, there’s something bittersweet about blooming so late in the game. Just the other night, I went out with the Arts & Culture team for an end-of-semester outing, and, like I always do with them, I had a great time. But in the midst of sharing anecdotes and laughing over Mexican food and margaritas, I was hit by a heavy sadness, even a little anger. I couldn’t help but think, “Why do I have to be uprooted just as I was starting to grow? Why do I have to be nearing the end just when I feel like I’m beginning?”

Then I thought about the alternative Samra, who never applied as an intern at all, and how she’d be spending this same night. That thought helped free me from my mini-spiral. Undeniably, it stinks to think about all the time I wasted and what could’ve been if I had only become an intern sooner. I can’t say I’m graduating without my share of regrets. But thanks to my time at Pipe Dream, I’m not leaving without some special memories either. For a brief but meaningful span of time, I was a part of something cool and important. Now, some stupid quote of mine is written on the whiteboard by the Arts & Culture desk. A Polaroid of our blurry group photo is tucked in my wallet. There’s a print issue in my room with my words inking its pages. It took me all four years, but I found a way to leave my mark and be changed in turn.

People often tell graduates that this change is the start of a new “chapter” in the story of their lives. In keeping with that metaphor, I’d say I’m jumping into this next storyline the same way I went into many of my articles and the same way I went into writing this column — without a plan and writing it haphazardly as I go along. Then again, at least I’m writing something.

To the Arts & Culture team: You guys made my senior year. Our time together may have come to an end, but I’ll always remember our production meetings with fondness and gratitude. Thank you, Sam, for being such a warm, friendly leader and for putting up with my copious extension requests and never-ending supply of dumb questions. It was a privilege to work under you. Eli, your and Sam’s banter was the highlight of every production meeting, and you’re an awesome person to boot. Pipe Dream will be worse-off without you and your iconic listicles, but I know you’re going to kill it wherever you go. Jamie, not only were you always the best-dressed person in the office (and in any room, let’s be honest), but you were also the one who encouraged me to apply to be an intern. Thank you so much for that and for being such a cool, great person and editor. Revati, being your fellow intern was a joy, and being your friend has been even better. I’m so proud and excited for your future as an assistant editor. Molly and Hudson, I may have only just gotten to know you, but it’s clear to me that you’re both great people and writers. I know the two of you, along with Revati, are going to rock Arts & Culture next year, and I only wish I could be there to witness it.

To my family, Layla and Meconan, I’m the luckiest sibling to be able to walk through life with you. Mom and Dad, every day I love, understand and appreciate you more. Thank you for everything.

Samra Ashe is a senior majoring in English