Chasing the Checkered Flag
In racing, setting a time trial is very boring for the spectator. Hitting every corner and straightaway fast and clean makes IndyCars look like an invisible hand is guiding toys along a track, perfecting their route to lap times within hundredths of a second of competitors.
For the driver, the seamless cruise is anything but gentle. Cameras set up in the cockpit are reinforced to the chassis while the driver, harnessed in as tightly as possible, is thrashed about and tossed around by multiple invisible hands, all angrier than the one guiding the car.
The race track isn’t too dissimilar to my college experience. From an outside perspective, it seems like it was easygoing – consistent full-time semesters culminating in a 3.2 GPA at graduation.
It felt like anything but for me. I started out the race rough. First things first, I went to Cameron as a last resort after falling off the waitlist for Baylor, the only school to which I managed to apply before the cut off.
Then I took college classes right out of high school without having any idea what I wanted to study; moreover, I didn’t even know if I should be going to college in the first place.
It was fine when I lived with my parents. Their support and encouragement made that difficult first semester less emotionally taxing, but I couldn’t get into a mindset to care about having a failing grade in American Government and losing out on a near-full ride scholarship.
Then they moved. My dad got orders from the Army to move to the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, and I made the foolhardy decision to stay at Cameron and live on campus alone.
At the time, it seemed like a good idea. It was at least better in my mind to be in a place with friends than to relocate halfway across the country to a place with no friends and no school.
It was fine when my family moved in grade school. There was always the promise of new friends in new schools, and clubs and sports where I could meet these like-minded people. But without school, loneliness seemed inevitable.
The rough patches didn’t stop there. My sanity slowly slipped away from me living on my own. I skipped classes because I couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t eat because I didn’t want to go to the cafeteria unless it was with a friend.
After not eating for five days, my only saving grace was flying to my parent’s home for Spring Break. I didn’t realize how badly I could miss them, how their absence could manifest itself into such severe depression.
But any time a racecar gets a flat tire, it makes its way back to the pits for quick repair, and then it’s right back on the track.
I finished up the semester as strongly as I could, dropping one class because I had missed too many days to make up, and then I went home for the summer to live with my parents and take some online classes.
That should have been my first clue that school was overwhelming me and I needed a break. I gave up on those classes within a week, forgot about them, and recorded three Fs on my transcript.
Yet I went back to campus on my own, determined to be a good student. I had the summer classes academically forgiven, and I aced the semester.
When I went home for the winter intersession, my parents discovered I had lost my scholarship and paid for that fall out-of-pocket. They still generously offered me the opportunity to continue in the spring, an offer I hastily took.
I changed my major three times that semester. I had finally figured out that college was right for me, but it didn’t mean anything if I didn’t have any inkling of my endgame. That spring was a bumpy road. I struggled with classes amidst the confusion of trying to figure out my major.
At the end of that semester, I felt like I was giving up on school when I went home. I took the following fall off to recompose myself. I needed to realign my mental health and soul-search for a major and eventual career.
At 24 Hours of Le Mans, drivers are on the track for hours at a time for multiple shifts. Their individual effort can seem staggering, but without a team to back them up and take some of the stress off their shoulders, they’d never make it more than halfway through the marathon.
My parents pushed me to find an interest I could pursue in college. In the meantime, I found a job where I could make enough money to save up for my next semester, which turned out to be the following spring.
I broke my parents’ hearts when I decided I wanted to go back to Cameron again instead of transferring to somewhere close to home, but I felt I needed to complete my education where I started – where I could see myself overcoming hurdles like I had done in semesters before.
And I did. I committed to a bachelor’s in biology. I took a 20-hour semester. I joined the “Collegian” as Copy Editor. I got a new job in town. I moved into my own place off campus.
I pushed myself to be the student I wanted to be when I applied for colleges in high school. I imagined the finish line I wanted to cross, and after two more semesters of similar course loads, extracurriculars and ultimate success, I can finally see the finish line.
By no means have I ever been a perfect student. I’ve never done anything spectacular to earn an award from the university. It’s been a rocky road. The ups and downs and twists and turns have worn me out, but the simple victory of crossing the finish line and walking across the stage for graduation is enough to make me feel like a champion.
Cameron is where great things have happened for me. I went on a televised game show and won, I met my fiancée, I led my own original research experiment, and I have worked with and led a team of brilliant journalists.
College hasn’t been the picture-perfect time trial I imagined, but it turned out to be the most memorable high-octane, tire-squealing adventure for which I could have asked.