Essay: ‘Home’ and the hands that shaped it

By Sierra Rains-Moad

For a split second all eyes were on me. My teammates gathered behind me as I stepped up to the block and their once boisterous cheering fell to the back of my mind, as though it were coming from a million miles away.

“Take your mark,” the announcer said — the three words that fire anxiety through every swimmer’s body.

In a matter of seconds the ice-cold water flooded all around me, but my body was working too hard to notice its wintry grip. Each time my head breached the water for breath I’d catch a split second of excitement in the screaming encouragement of my teammates.

The tips of my fingers touched the wall, but it was too late. I had made it to the state swim meet, but I had lost my race. It was a brief moment of defeat.

Brief, because in that same moment, a hand reached toward me, helping me out of the water. On land I was rejoined and surrounded by not only my teammates but my friends. The same excitement and joy that existed before the race was unwavering.

I had only known these people for a short time and yet, I felt at home. “Home” was always changing for me. One moment I’d be in Oklahoma and the next I was in Indiana.

I’d walk into a new school at least six times in my life. My first day, I would walk toward the entrance and as I opened the doors, it would always be as if the announcer for the swim meet was saying “take your mark,” with that same anxiety creeping through my veins.

I was unbearably shy and the thought of having to make a whole new set of friends each time I moved was just as insufferable. My heart wrenched at the thought of having to leave them again and again when the time inevitably came.

My mother was young and life always had a way of leading us somewhere new, whether because of my parent’s divorce, my mother going back to college or my mother getting a new job.

My first big move was from Texas to Oklahoma. I was only 5 at the time that my parents split and my mother desired to be closer to my grandparents. As a child, this was hard for me to understand. My world in Arlington consisted of making mud castles and chalking on the road with the neighbor’s kids — nothing more serious than when the rain inevitably washed our creations away.

When the time came, I watched from the back window of the car as my best friends stood in our former driveway and gazed longingly as we drove far away. Their tiny hands waved, with tears at the brim of their eyes. I thought that was the last time I’d ever see them. A pain I hadn’t felt before crept into my chest.

With every move this agony would return and I learned the drill. It became as routine as the drills we’d do at swim practice– back and forth 25 meters at a time. The people I had once laid in sleeping bags with, talking about nothing for hours upon hours would all eventually slip out of my life as we slowly fell out of contact. I’d go back and forth between schools, until it felt like I’d swam thousands of meters, trying to catch a breath.

As I got older, I began to recognize that each time that pain of defeat, of loss, of loneliness would return, so would the hand reaching to help me out of the depths. It came in many different forms over the years, but it was always there.

My grandfather’s hand would stretch towards me as we scaled the Wichita Mountains, pulling me to safety. The hand of a friend lifted me off the ground as I laid gasping for breath after being thrown off the back of a horse. My freshman roommate in college offered me a hand many nights in the library when coffee just wouldn’t cut it for me anymore and I needed the motivation of another person there with me.

Each person I met in my travels touched my life in some way that made me who I am today. I had always felt disadvantaged by how much we moved when in actuality I was privileged to be able to meet so many wonderful people.

Life, which had seemingly taken so many things from me, also had a way of returning what was once lost.

My freshman year of high school began around the time that Facebook had sprung into popularity. One day, a little red notification popped up on my screen. My mouse moved to click on the notification and a message under a familiar name appeared, saying “remember me?”

The little boy I had left standing in my driveway had grown older in the past 10 years, but the details of his face still seemed familiar. His hand which had once waved goodbye now typed “hello” across a keyboard. We were both overjoyed. And even though we still live 196 miles apart, we talk as if those boundaries are not there.

At the end of my senior year of high school, I wrote a short speech to give at my last swim team banquet. I stood on a stage in front of all of my teammates and their families and I told everyone about how I lost my race at state.

I’d lost many things in my life. I’d faced challenges that felt akin to making it to state, but I was never alone. I watched as the faces silhouetted by the low light of the auditorium listened. Love was thick in the room as their hands came together to produce a resounding sound of applause.

I would begin a new journey on my own after that night. Time would mean distance from the family I had built on the swim team, but my new journey lead me into the hands of yet another.

Essay: Jawbone — a story from under to over


When I was a sophomore in college, an oral surgeon made four incisions behind each of my bottom and top molars, ripped both upper and lower jaws from my head, repositioned them and painfully screwed the two sets back into my skull.

And I asked him to do it.

I had lived with a 1 ½ inch underbite for 10 years. However, in a matter of merely four hours, I would have closure on a decade’s worth of using miniscule brushes to excavate food out of my braces, dodging rubber bands which, while connected to each bracket, would catapult out of my mouth if I smiled too big, and much more.

Regardless, minutes before the operation, the only thing I could focus on while laying in my warm, comforting hospital bed purposefully equipped with a half dozen blankets for consolation was the small faucet in the prepping room intended for hand washing. It beckoned me to leave my hospital bed and run my mouth under it. Drip-drip-drip it sang, taunting me more with every single dribble.

But I couldn’t. And I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink in nearly 12 hours as I waited for surgeons to reconstruct my face. If the anesthesia made me sick for some reason after the surgery, I could possibly start to vomit, which would destroy what my oral surgeon would do in the next half hour.

So, water was out of the question. All I could do was stare at the sink.

And then stare as a nurse came into my small prepping area at Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City and slowly shoved a needle the length of an adult index finger into my left hand.

And then stare at my parents, both teary-eyed, as the nurse wheeled me into the operating room.

And then stare at the crowd of medical practitioners, completely disguised in blue scrubs and latex, as they cheered my name when I finally arrived before them.

I thought back to the third grade right before they put me under, when I first heard the term braces. At the time, I never thought my physical appearance and personality would travel  such a dramatic, transformative 10-year arc. Back in my orthodontist’s waiting room in 2004, all I thought about was how “cool” it was to be the first kid in the third grade to get some colorful, showy hardware.

“You have an underbite,” assessed Dr. David Birdwell after fitting together plaster molds of my top and bottom teeth he had taken from my last appointment. I was 9 and, surprisingly, incredibly enthusiastic to choose what color bands the doc was about to painfully stretch over each bracket.

Upon my return to class, my classmates were enamored by my now vibrant teeth. Colored brackets started popping up on everyone’s smiles during the next two years of elementary school. Although wiring would stab my lips and gums causing sores from time to time and I had been told to wear “headgear” every night—a contraption resembling a catcher’s mask, only hollowed and fit with rubber bands attached to my top jaw—I loved the temporary attention. By the sixth grade, my orthodontist took off my braces, and my teeth were fairly straight.

What I didn’t know was that braces wouldn’t fix my underbite. They had aggressively lined my pearly whites into an orderly formation a drill sergeant would have been proud of, but I wasn’t done growing by a longshot. My facial composition began resembling a person sucking on tobacco dip. A lisp started to slowly creep into my daily speech. Eating certain foods became such a challenge that by my senior year of high school, I couldn’t take a bite of pizza and was forced to eat many things with a fork and knife. During a visit to my orthodontist in my senior year, he advised me that surgery would be the only way to completely correct my underbite. What he failed to tell me was that my underbite would be one of the biggest corrections he had ever been confronted with.

Going into college, I believed appearances were extremely significant. Looking back on it, if a semi-dorky freshman with a weird looking smile (check), a lisp (check) and braces (check) walked into a fraternity house during rush or walked up to a girl, he would immediately strike out.

So I was a little apprehensive. My orthodontist and I made a deal throughout my freshman year, however: I would only have to wear bottom braces during my first year of college. Yes, I was and still am a little vain. But what adolescent guy isn’t?

The surgery went better than expected. My surgeon casually greeted me as soon as I woke up and assured me recovery would be easy. Although I was a little pessimistic about the healing process when blood seeped out of both my mouth and nose like a bath faucet as I sat up for the first time hours after, I made myself think positively. If I sulked around and complained about my situation, I was only hurting myself. The next day, I demanded to take a stroll around the hospital. I clutched onto my rolling IV like an old man holds a walker. Wide-eyed nurses and recovering patients were greeted with a muffled “What’s up” and a high-five as I strolled down the hallway, desperate to recuperate.

In the coming weeks, I would start to undergo various physical changes. The swelling in my cheeks (which resembled a mobster’s from “The Sopranos”) would go down significantly. I would lose 20 pounds in about two months due to my inability to eat solid food. My mouth would open only enough to fit a pill of Advil between my bottom jaw and the splint the doctors had installed to allow proper healing. For the first two weeks, the only path to a meal was through a plastic, hospital-grade syringe. The lowest point was when I drank pizza by blending two pieces in a blender.  It tasted as bad as you can imagine, but the grueling hunger that clawed at my stomach day and night was enough incentive.

Looking back on it, the process doesn’t seem that bad. My chin is still slightly numb, a characteristic the surgeon says is permanent. But, my facial design is much better than it was. I can enunciate every spoken word, and I can even eat pizza, which is obviously the best part.

But most situations, whether bad or good, are temporary. Optimism acts as a hefty tool as it can alter any situation for the better. Having my face completely reconfigured led me to one definitive conclusion: If that was the worst thing I ever had to go through, I can get through about any daunting task or situation.

Sitting on my couch while high on Vicodin days after the procedure, transcribing my barely-understandable thoughts to whoever visited me, I kept feeling this nagging sense of clarity. Even though I had just undergone a painfully transformative process, I was extremely happy and almost in a euphoric state. Because, for once in my life, I was looking forward and not back. I couldn’t wait to get off that couch, let the orthodontist rip the second round of braces out of my mouth and genuinely smile for once in my life.

Now, I smile all of the time.


Essay: Support from a community

By Parker Biggs, JMC2023

Sitting in the doctors office at 15 years old is never fun. It was a visit that I dreaded and still dread today. There was something different about this visit, however. There was almost an eeriness in the room as I awaited the return of my pediatrician. When he returned to the room, he was not his typical fun-natured self. With a straight face, he quickly told my mom and I that we needed to see a specialist with better MRI equipment.

This scared the hell out of me. Just a few weeks before I was preparing for my freshman track and field season and now I’m rushing off to another doctors office and don’t know exactly what is going on. I’d been suffering headaches at the back of my head for several weeks and my mom thought it would be a good idea to go check it out. I was thinking it was just early spring allergies, or possibly a sinus infection. So when I was told that I needed to go to a facility with the best MRI equipment, I quickly realized that this was no sinus infection.

After lying down under several x-ray and MRI machines, I waited to hear what was going on. I waited for a full day before my father was contacted. My parents sat me down and told me that I had a brain cyst. And according to the person on the other end of the call with my dad, it was large. I had no idea what a cyst was. But for the teenager who always tried to act tough around campus; it scared me. After several discussions with experts, my parents decided my best option was to have the cyst drained by a brain surgeon in Dallas.

In the weeks leading up to the operation, I found out lots about my friends, family and community. As a freshman, I really did not know the head track coach too well. I wasn’t a superstar and didn’t compete on varsity, so we didn’t have much interaction. But this man went out of his way to show support. Every day leading up to the surgery, he was asking for updates. He always made sure I knew that I was in his thoughts and prayers. He literally gave my phone number to every member on the team the night before I was in the hospital. I was receiving texts from the senior D1 football commits, whom I’d never spoken to. I was receiving calls from teammates that I hadn’t spoken with since elementary school. This along with the kind words from schoolteachers and principals really showed the strength of the community and helped me feel at ease as I was off to the hospital.

While I may have gone into the surgery with some confidence, the weeks following the operation may have been tougher. After a successful surgery, I was out of school for a couple weeks as I recovered from the pain in my head and neck. Things were different upon my return. I was out of athletics indefinitely. So the security that I had always felt from having teammates that backed me up could be gone, I thought. And on top of that, a big chunk of my hair was shaved off the back of my head, where I had a 6 inch nasty scar staring right in the eyes of fellow classmates walking behind me. I didn’t want to return to school like this. No more girls, no more touchdowns, no more popularity. My mind was racing. But I toughened up and returned to the Jenks High School Freshman Academy. I immediately realized how great this community was. While coaches, parents and administrators were always making sure I was doing well, my friends treated me the same as they always did. They didn’t ditch me because of my gnarly scar or not want to hangout because I was no longer on the football team. Normalcy is what I needed during that time. I never asked for it, but it was as if those closest with me knew exactly what I needed.

Being a freshman in high school is scary. Being a freshman in high school having a brain surgery is even scarier. The strength of a community helped pushed me through it, however. It didn’t have to be that way. That coach had no reason to go out of his way to show support, but he did. My classmates could have easily picked on me for my shaved hair, but they didn’t. It has been about five and a half years, yet I am still thankful for how I was treated by my community.

Essay: My snow globe childhood


Walking into my childhood home after school was like entering a secret clubhouse. Quirky characters with wrinkly fingers greeted me with snacks, laughs and “The Sound of Music” on repeat.

Chuckles too big for 70-year old-lungs filled the air. They were followed by coughs and then smiles.

I was raised by three grandparents and a great grandma. My parents, who had married young, were usually working, building a life in Norman after years of attempting to acclimate to a foreign country.

Mamay, my mother’s mother, exhibited the impact of British colonialism on Indian culture. She drank British tea in white china, tended to her garden and let sarcasm fly faster than her victims could register her remarks. She loved mangos and taught me to love them, too, as we grazed our teeth along the giant pits, peeling off any excess juicy goodness we could.

Raj, my mother’s father and my own personal stylist, wore foundation he insisted was moisturizer. He fashioned three-piece suits with his hair slicked back, everyday. The most casual I ever saw him was in a polo on the weekend. When my tween self came back from the mall, he’d patiently critique my purchases. We’d compare notes about who had the best sales and new products. We’d end our days with tiramisu from Olive Garden.

Kamaliamma, my dad’s mom, was loud. She was the original feminist. She let me do whatever I wanted, even when my dad said no, always answering my timid fears with, “Eh, we’ll deal with him later.” She was the queen of pineapple pizza, slipping me $20 bills to order in.

Alu, my great grandmother, did crossword puzzles well into her 90s. She knew more than any encyclopedia, and ate riotous amounts of popcorn. Late at night, when I’d help her into bed, she’d tell me about the adventures she had as a youth in Burma. She taught me to have some of my own.

As I grew, they remained the same. They were constants, living snow globe lives. Their 70-year-old lungs would always be full of laughter. They existed in a tiny familiar world that would always be home to me.

When I left for college, things changed.

I began to deal with health issues. My anxiety, which turned into depression, which turned into something resembling a bipolar disorder, began to consume my life.

My childhood clubhouse became quieter. Chuckles shrank. “The Sound of Music” stopped.

Mamay began to eat fewer mangos, her diabetic blood begging her to slow down.

Raj began wearing polos more often, easier to get dressed in each morning than his full suits.

Kamaliamma began to spend more time at my aunt’s in Chicago. At first I thought she liked my cousins better. Then I realized it was because my aunt was a doctor.

Alu’s encyclopedia brain began to forget things — starting with the Pythagorean theorem and ending with my name.

My health began to take a turn for the worse. Autoimmune issues, neurological dilemmas, medical mysteries took over my life. As my days filled with scans and blood tests, so did theirs.

Mamay developed breast cancer, Alu passed away, Raj was consumed with stress and Kamalamma kept postponing her surgeries.

Going home, nostalgia stings my heart. As I walk into the living room I see Raj, Niru and Kamaliamma in the kitchen. Niru, bald, smiles at me while she sneaks a mango onto her plate. “Touch my head,” she says, laughing. “Your cousins say it’s really soft.”

Raj rolls his eyes, “You look good,” he says. “Want to go to Dillard’s with me later?”

Kamaliamma feigns false annoyance. “Have you forgotten me?” she says, before breaking into a toothy grin.

They smile, happy, talking about chemo, surgeries and blood sugar. They don’t exist in a snow globe. Neither do I. Their 70-year-old lungs will fall apart, their laughs will shrink. I will change. My ideas of familiarity, of home, will also change.

It’s the secret of the elderly — the no bullshit acceptance of reality.

When Niru was first diagnosed, I asked how she felt. She said that she was scared for the pain, but nothing else. She had a career, a family, friends. She got to paint, drink tea, watch Audrey Hepburn movies.

“I’ve lived my life,” she said.

Now as my head rolls into a whizzing MRI machine, “Doe a dear, a female dear…” begins to play in my head. I smile, closing my eyes.

Tomorrow I will watch the sunrise. Get coffee with an old friend. I will read the book on my nightstand. I will book a plane ticket to visit my brother, plan a camping trip with friends. And someday, when my fingers are covered with wrinkles and a big-eyed, curly-haired girl looks up at me and asks how I am, I know exactly what I will say.

“I’m good. I’ve lived.”

Essay: Baseball with my grandma


My team was hot and I was homesick.

The Cubs had a chance to do something they hadn’t in over a century: Win the World Series.

In the fall of 2015, I was a freshman in college and more than 800 miles from my Chicago home, and while some in Norman, Oklahoma, cared about the Cubs, none cared as much as my grandma. So, one night after the Cubs won the National League Wild Card game I called my grandma, an old Irish Catholic mother of seven sons, who is strong, smiling and sassy.

We talked about the game. We talked about school. We talked about life.

Sports have been an important part of my family for as long as I can remember. My entire extended family plays sports. We watch sports at holidays and play each other when we get together for celebrations.   

Three nights later, in the next series and after another victory, I called again and told her I’d do so after every win the rest of that postseason. Lucky for us, the Cubs won a couple more and advanced to the National League Championship Series. There, our loveable losers promptly got swept. Every night they played that series I cheered for a win — not just for the Cubs, but for me. So I could talk to my grandma.

My grandma can be heard yelling at the Cubs through the TV all throughout her house regularly from Opening Day in April to whenever their season ends in the fall.

It happened when I was a kid, spending time there in her always-tidy one story house after school while my parents worked. It happened in high school when I’d drive the less than two miles to hang out and get food. It happens today when I’m back to visit or make one of my calls.

She was one of my biggest influences when it came to my love for sports. Driving me to my games — softball, volleyball and more — when my parents couldn’t. Playing catch when I was just starting to play and was terrible. Best of all, playing wiffle ball with me, my brother, the other girls she watched and our friends from her block.

Those games took place in her backyard where the pitcher’s mound was a hole worn, home plate was next to the vegetable garden and we were always the Cubs vs. anyone else. When we were younger, she would bat and be the all-time pitcher. As we aged, she’d sit and ump — making calls of a different sort.

A year after our victory calls began, we resumed the tradition.

I called my grandma as the Cubs progressed through the 2016 postseason.

Three wins over San Francisco in the National League Division Series. Four wins over Los Angeles in the National League Championship Series. After wins over Cleveland in Games 2, 5 and 6 of the World Series.  

Each time, we talked about the game. We talked about school. We talked about life.

And then — finally, miraculously, in extra innings of Game 7, for the first time since 1908, 34 years before my grandma was born — it happened. Those loveable losers weren’t losers anymore.

The Cubs won the World Series.

Without even a pause for celebration, minutes before midnight, I immediately dialed my grandma’s phone number — one of few I know by heart.

My grandma gets excited. She yells and screams and cheers, but, when a big moment happens, she’s not one to go crazy or cry. And she didn’t do that when I talked to her, but I could tell in her voice how happy she was.

I knew she was proud of this ball club she’d watched for so long, proud they’d finally done it. And I was proud too. And I was so happy. Happy for my city, Chicago, a place I missed. And for my grandma, that she’d lived to see this moment and been healthy enough to appreciate it.

I couldn’t see her, but I knew she was smiling from ear to ear.


A few months after the joy of the World Series, my grandma had a stumble in a parking lot that scared her and the family. It also scared me, in particular. When I’m back over winter break, I’m a relief pitcher of sorts. In the late innings of my grandma’s life, it’s my time to help take care of the woman who for so long took care of me.

I took her to an urgent care and a specialist. A cyst in the back of her knee had popped. Nothing, the specialist said, could be done to prevent it from possibly happening again. So my grandma stopped going on regular walks, soon fell out shape and now has trouble walking short distances without becoming winded.

Not only are her wiffle ball days done, she’s got to save her breath for yelling at the Cubs.  

She’s still got her arm, though. Recently, we gathered to celebrate our matriarch’s 75th birthday.

There, at a park in Wisconsin, I got to do something I hadn’t in awhile — play catch with my grandma. And she didn’t miss a beat.

She caught every thing I threw.

She returned them better than most grandmas ever could.

And as the ball whipped back and forth, I thought of the calls I hope to make to her back in Elmwood Park late in many Octobers to come.

Essay: A different type of celebration


By the time my sisters and I arrived at the hospital late that Friday morning, my family took up half of the spacious waiting room on the fifth floor at St. Anthony Hospital.

We were used to celebrations in waiting rooms, tending to fill them with extended family when babies are born. We joked about the coolers with a few bottles of wine my aunt always sneaks past nurses to celebrate a new baby joining the family.

So waiting for my dad to get out of surgery was different.

We fell silent when the doctor came in…


Days before, my phone rang during an hour between classes while I killed time in the Union. I had made it through the first week of my senior year of college, and without much to work on yet I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook.

It was the time of day my mom usually calls to check in on me, and I answered expecting the usual conversation.

She asked about my day, and I told her I was almost done with my classes for the week.

Her tone changed, and she told me I might need to go home to Oklahoma City that night.

“What’s the occasion?” I asked, figuring it might be a family dinner with my two sisters and their children, who all live within a few miles of my parents.

She explained how three days earlier my dad went into the doctor with a sore throat.

That he had come out with news that he kept to himself for two days.

That he did so because he did not know how to tell anyone.

“A spot on his tonsils lit up on the CT scan,” she said. “He will have surgery next week and radiation after that.”

We talked for about 10 minutes and the word cancer was never said, but it was stuck in my head for the rest of the day. I slowly walked to class with an anxious feeling in my chest. Part of me wanted to tell everyone. Maybe talking about it would make it feel more normal.

I ended up talking about it with only my family because I thought maybe it would go away if no one else talked about it.


My 58-year-old dad is a busy businessman with a very healthy lifestyle. A private man, not a sick man. So people talking about him at all, much less his health in the days that followed, was strange to me.

When my grandfather died of an aggressive form of skin cancer four years ago, the rest of the family saw my dad as the new patriarch of the family. He had already taken over the family business decades before, and he goes to the office almost every day. Those who know him love hearing him talk to a crowd. Some said his speech was the best part of my sister’s wedding.

Everyone praised him for his speech at his dad’s funeral and how strong he was for holding the family together during that hard time. I did not see him cry until two months later around Christmas.


I thought about these things all week and went home the day before his surgery, where doctors would remove his tonsils along with any surrounding mass or tumors they might find.

We have always been close and it seems like we often travel in one large group wherever we go. My dad’s mom even came back from her summer home in Colorado to be with all of us.

While we waited, in the days after learning the news and even while sitting in the waiting room, it’s not uncommon to re-evaluate your life choices. We are all a little reckless in our own selfish ways. My dad had quit using chewing tobacco when he first heard it might be cancer, which was something none of us thought he would ever do.

This process — wherever it was leading us — had been a wake up call for him. My Mema went as far to say it could have been a sign from God for him to quit.


Back in the waiting room, the doctor took a seat next to my fearful mother.

“Surgery went well,” he said, “the tumor was benign.”

We could be loud and celebrate again. Tears filled all of our eyes.

No cancer.

No radiation needed.

Just a week long recovery from the tonsillectomy. Still, the anxiety remained in my chest knowing it would be a difficult recovery, not only for my dad, but also for my mom as his caretaker.

My dad is a quiet person at times, but he will not hesitate to let you know if something is bothering him. He and my mom would be spending more time together in a week than they have possibly spent in their entire 33 years of marriage.

He would go without solid foods, spoken words or a trip to the office to do work for the week. All were things I was pessimistic about, until I saw my dad in the recovery room with tears on his face as he gave me two thumbs up. This was the first time I had seen him cry since his dad died, but I knew seeing him that there was nothing but optimism on his mind.  

Then I knew everything was going to be OK.

Essay: Connecting the dots


Pools of blue-gray bleed into rich cardinal red and ivory, combining to form a cropped view of the American flag, billowing in the breeze. A 23-year-old Clyde Sharp gazes into the distance, just escaping eye contact with his viewer. He appears strong, handsome and peaceful. He shows no signs of fear as a soldier preparing for war. His perfectly chiseled features separate him from the remaining 49 pieces surrounding him.

As I stood back viewing the painting of my grandfather hanging at the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., I couldn’t help but pinch myself. It was as if the whole world stopped as I admired my work. In a single word, I would describe the moment as joy. Happiness is external, but this feeling came from deep inside my soul. For the first time, I had received public recognition for my passion in arguably one of the highest regards possible as a junior in high school.

Winning the Congressional Art Competition in 2014 strengthened my artistic confidence like never before. My painting brought tears to the eyes of friends, family and even Congressman Bridenstine, the judge of the annual contest. I had achieved what great artists strive for: I had evoked emotion.

Still, the most fulfilling praise was from my parents. As an only child, I wanted then, and still want now, nothing more than to please them and make them proud. My mom is the source of my creative inclinations. Grace, compassion and inspiration flow from her like a thundering waterfall. My dad exudes a gentle, kind-hearted nature. He is someone I can always count on for an honest opinion or simply as an ear to listen, but falls more toward left-brained tendencies. As different as my parents may be, they came together despite divorce to celebrate my accomplishment. It is moments like these that make me feel the most content.

Despite all the excitement, I stood in the tunnel system of the U.S. Capitol critiquing my work. I honed in on a section of thick, red acrylic paint that I hadn’t watered down enough. In my eyes, it stood out like a sore thumb. You could clearly see the ridges my paintbrush had dug, whereas the rest of the painting was smooth and seemed to blend into itself. The pocket on my grandfather’s uniform looked as though it was painted by a kindergartener.

My trip to Washington D.C. still stands as one of the greatest trips I have ever taken; however, I was still able to convince myself that a career in the arts ultimately would not bring me success. I eventually accepted my creativity as a hobby, not a feasible profession. It wasn’t realistic or dependable.

. . . . .

About a year after that trip to Washington, D.C., I shook the hand of the headmaster at my private Christian high school and received my diploma. As I walked across the stage, friends and family members of the class of 2015 were informed by the emcee that I would attend the University of Oklahoma in the fall, pursuing a major that had yet to be decided. College was such a wonderful mystery, and in that moment, peering out onto my class of 96 students, I couldn’t wait to embark on a new adventure.

The day finally came to depart Tulsa yet again; however, this time lacked the excitement of my previous trip. All of the anticipation of finally gaining independence materialized in the most unexpected of ways. As my mom finished making my bed, my dad took me outside into the cramped hallway of my dorm. Before he could even begin his pep-talk, I burst into tears and embraced him like it was the last time I would ever see him. He told me in that hallway that he was proud of me, and that he knew I would be great. He held me for what seemed like an eternity and I never wanted it to end. My mom emerged from my tiny room next and the tears continued. She gave me her signature advice, “You got this!” Finally, I hugged both of my parents simultaneously. Those few seconds of unity with my mom and dad are some of the most precious.

Before I knew it, all traces of family members were old news and college life had officially begun. After battling for some time over what my major should be, I decided on business. I was tired of telling friends and family members I was “undecided” when they asked. Undecided essentially translated to “I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.” My dad majored in business and even got his masters in it. He was so successful. Business was a safe bet, and as a confused, lonely freshman just trying to figure life out on my own, safe sounded good.

I enrolled in all the necessary business courses and felt content for the first time in a while. I would be getting a degree in something my parents would be proud of. My dad would be able to impress all of his friends by telling them that his one and only daughter was in the Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma. That had a nice ring to it, and it made me feel like I was doing something practical with my life.

Unfortunately, this feeling of peace and belonging did not last long. My first macroeconomics test rolled around and I studied as hard as I ever had. I needed to prove to myself and to everyone around me that this was the right path for me. Long story short, I bombed it. This was a feeling I had never experienced before, being a 4.0 student throughout high school. This was my moment of realization. I’m not going to be the best anymore. It’s impossible.

Despite this heart-breaking failure, I decided to chin up and give it another go. I would study even harder for the next test. I would hire a tutor and put in as many hours as it took. I wasn’t going to be knocked down that easily. A few weeks later, as I sat in my dorm room at 5 a.m. vigorously studying flashcard for the test I would be taking in a matter of hours, it clicked. I jolted up from my slouched position. I shouldn’t be living my life for others. My dad is going to be proud of me no matter what I do. I should be living my life for me, myself and I, doing something I love.

. . . . .

I couldn’t have been more excited to meet with my adviser the next day. I sat with her for nearly an hour. That appointment was more comparable to a therapy session than is was an advising appointment.

I had decided on journalism as my major. My whole complex of not finding success through creativity was shattered. Journalism was a way to incorporate both my love of writing and being artistic with a more practical basis.

In Vogue: The Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Fashion Magazine sat on my shelf, staring me down. It was reminding me of who I was and who I wanted to be. My obsession with the publication grew so strong that I even ventured to make it the subject of my senior art portfolio. Its pages are full of some of the 20th century’s most respected artists, cover illustrators and photographers. These inspirational individuals embody characteristics that I want to exercise in my future career. They are bold and tenacious. They follow their dreams. They believe in the power of their vision and its potential impact on the world. That’s who I want to be. That’s what I want to accomplish.

Fast-forward a year and I’m sitting awe-struck on my twin bed at my sorority house. Completely dumbfounded. I had received an internship position at The Brides of Oklahoma Magazine. Tears of joy escaped my eyes as I realized yet again that my passions and skills hold value. I was flooded with self-confidence and excitement for the future. My inner Anna Wintour came out and I can only hope she sticks around. Who knows, maybe one day that will be me, overlooking the New York City skyline from my corner office, making the final call on a cover design.

“In today’s world, you have to interact. You can’t be some difficult shy person who is not able to look somebody in the face; you have to present yourself. You have to know how to talk about your vision, your focus and what you believe in.” –Anna Wintour