COLUMN: I'm living this last semester for more than just myself
My grandmother didn't go to college.
She went to cosmetology school to get her license to cut hair. She married my grandfather. She worked as a secretary. She had three daughters who, in turn, lead lives of their own where they got married and gave her seven grandchildren.
For a while, she worked at a Meijer in Berkley, Michigan. She worked shifts long before I got up, fixing their computer systems to keep the cash registers and self-scanners going, and sometimes went to bed shortly after I came home from school.
When we lived together — me, her and my mother — she chain-smoked on the back steps of the basement while lecturing me on the importance of staying in school and trying my best. She didn't quite know how to relate to me, but she tried.
She'd sneak me packets of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards out of fresh shipments before they'd hit store shelves even though she couldn't pronounce the names of any of the characters. She frequently asked my how my "Yu-glee-oh collection" was going. She'd buy toys for my dog, even though she thought he was too big and mean for me to handle. She'd make me dinner even when she was tired after 14-hour work days. She would listen to me whine about how I "didn't like it" — like most picky eight-year-olds are wont to do.
This year is the last semester of my undergraduate career. Everything she told me throughout my life, every question she's ever asked about my school habits and social life — I've always tried to follow her advice. Finally, in May, I will have all my hard work I've put in over the last 20-something years pay off.
She won't get to see what I do next.
My grandmother died of bone cancer the day before I was due back to school to start production of Central Michigan Life.
My mother told me she was ill the minute after I took my last final of the week in December.
"How much time," I asked.
"Days? Weeks? They don't even know," she said. "It's bad."
Over the course of winter break, she deteriorated before my eyes. If you've never seen someone quite literally drained of their life, I assure you, it's harrowing. It's a look at your own mortality. It's a lesson in loss.
The last thing I told her was that I'd see her soon.
The last thing she told me was that she was proud of me.
This semester means a little more to me now than just my last year of college. It's more than just my own experience. It's the last semester for a woman who raised three daughters and then helped to educate, nurture, love and spoil a gaggle of grandkids.
It's the last semester for a woman who never got to set foot in a university classroom but made sure all her daughters had the opportunity. It's for the woman who wasn't perfect (really though, none of us are) but who made sure she gave more than what she could for the rest of us.
Make sure you make the most of this semester. Make sure you remember and thank the people who helped you get this far. If you don't know what's going to come next, that's fine, but make sure you focus on the now.
Make sure you don't take it for granted.
Because come May, I know I'll be walking across the stage for more than just myself.