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I’m thirty-five today. It’s okay if you didn’t know. It wasn’t that exciting of a day. I took off work and have just been lounging around the house. I slept in, ordered way too much Dunkin’ that I ended up refrigerating like an old lady, and watched the world go by. I did some work too, using my half-day at school to prep the trip I’m field producing next week. But in the grand scheme of things, today was just like any other day. I did get HBD messages from my friends and family, but it didn’t hit as hard for me this year. I’ve been treating myself like a thirty-five-year-old since 2021 began. If anyone asked how old I was, I’d answer, “I’ll be thirty-five in April.” So now that I’ve actually made it to graduation day, I wondered if I would start treating myself differently when I hit what I consider a milestone age.

And I think I just might.

There’s a lot going on right now. Too much, sometimes. We’re just a bunch of students carrying our already-full backpacks, huddling off to class to learn how literally every single human being on earth feels about something. We need to be prepared and taught how to speak with someone we may to meet who happens to meet certain criteria we’re told is absolutely necessary to know. Whether that’s race, gender, vaccination status, I mean, I don’t even know anymore, virginity? No matter what it is, everyone has to tell you absolutely everything about themselves these days. Some people cannot go one conversation without reaching for their encyclopedias and listing off all the problems that arose when that subject came up that one time. I went on Instagram for the first time in ages today, only to see a guy I used to work with posted about 4/20. “Smoke ’em if you got ’em!” he said, “Only don’t forget marijuana prohibition is racist and only serves to marginalize our most vulnerable. Hashtag, legalize it.”

I mean, holy jeez, way to make the chillest day all year sound heavy as f*ck. While what he wrote may actually be true to some extent, who in the star-studded hell asked for the reminder? Can’t you enjoy one thing without feeling the need to tell everyone how sucky it is for someone else? Whatever happened to just enjoying something and fighting the power when necessary? Is your schoolyard fight with the bullies really that never-ending?

Sorry, guys. I’m thirty-five today. I don’t have time to fight every single battle you think I should. I’ve got my own core curriculum to deal with. I’ve signed up for, like, so many classes this semester, I’m just too swamped to pour as much care into the same things you do. Not a slight on you, keep fighting the good fight, but do us all a favor and relax about it for a second. It can’t be good for our psyches to be this inflamed all the time. Never mind the added pressure of surviving a pandemic; quarantines, cabin fevers, and endless in-school-suspensions couldn’t possibly have done us any favors either.

I encourage people to learn about those who are different than they are. I think that’s a good thing we have these differences. At least it gives us something to talk about. But the hope is we approach these subjects respectfully. If you give respect, you’ll usually get it back. And if someone doesn’t play by those rules, you move on and find someone who will. It’s a lesson we learned all the way back in Kindergarten: treat others how you would want to be treated. It seems so lost on us lately, but weirdly understandable. After one-too-many late-night cram sessions, your brain can seriously turn to mush.

So I’ve done another year around the sun. Another year older, another year wiser. Or so they say. But I’m feeling good about it. There’s plenty of positivity out there looking for the proper lecture hall to speak. But we’ve really got to try working together, and not doing so under the threat of force. You’ve got to make people feel welcome in the group project, or else nothing is going to get done. And here in the good ol’ U.S.A., our back to school welcome wagon has taken some seriously weird and perverse turns as of late. But that’s not in the lesson plan until next week.

I wish I could wax poetic about the future right now, but I’m finding more and more how much I enjoy being in the moment: anticipating what’s on my agenda, but not forcing anything into a place it doesn’t belong. I’m just sitting here at my desk just being me. Thirty-five-year-old me. The girl who hated school growing up but never for a moment doubted its importance. And she’s ready to matriculate into the next chapter of her life, praying to God she discovers why she’s really here.

Though I am holding out hope that maybe one day I’ll be surprised by a note on my locker asking me to prom. Wouldn’t that make for the best birthday ever.


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