COLUMN: Gratitude is all I have

Aurora Rae poses for a portrait April 26 in Moore Hall.

Gratitude is all I have.

It’s taken a lot to realize that: the pandemic, a virtual college experience and my dad’s death.

Since the fall of 2019, almost nothing has happened how I expected. Only now can I appreciate that the hardest times in my life were really the most instrumental to my development and understanding of myself.

Four years ago this summer, I sat in the conference room of Moore Hall's fourth-floor journalism department during an orientation meeting. Alanna Sparks, at the time a senior at CMU, asked the dozen incoming students I sat among if anyone was interested in photojournalism.

I was the only one to raise my hand.

She nearly jumped out of her chair with excitement as we locked eyes and smiled. Now, as I look back on that moment, I still smile, realizing it was the first of many profound connections I would make with my journalism peers, mentors and those whose stories I shared. These relationships allowed me to gain perspective of my place in this world. I have realized through journalism – connecting with strangers – that everyone has a story and even more so, everyone is carrying their own trauma.

As I reflect on four life-changing years, I can’t help but feel anything but grateful for the people and experiences – positive and negative – that shaped me into the person I am today. I would not be every bit of myself if it were not for every single person I’ve loved, loathed and everything in between.

To my first college friend, Callie Hazelgrove, I will always remember being introduced to you through CMU’s online friend matchmaker and finally meeting up in the bathroom during orientation. I was so nervous. Now, I can’t imagine the past four years without you in it. Our friendship is so pure, and I’ve learned more from you than I could ever sum up in a paragraph, let alone an entire column. I am blessed to have been by your side and to call you not just a friend, but my family.

To Zipporah Abarca, I could tell we had similar energy from the start, and I knew I wanted to be your friend. We have connected in ways I never thought possible. I learn from you every time we speak. Your confidence is contagious, and I can’t think of a better person to take over the position of editor-in-chief. I look forward to watching you grow and make a name for yourself as a badass international journalist.

To my newsroom family – past and present – my Gramp, Pa, Aunt Judy, Suzie, Troy. I could go on for days naming the people and experiences that built me into the person I am today. Thank you will never be enough.

There are two people that laid the foundation for my success from before the day I was born. This is to my mom, in Massachusetts and to my dad, in heaven.

Before you even knew my name, you began saving for my college fund. 

You granted me the ability to grow up unaware of the luxuries I was surrounded by. We lived in a nice house, in a quiet neighborhood, with quality cars. You worked 9 to 5; I went to school and was a competitive figure skater. We quite literally had the picket fence. This one wasn’t white, yet it came with all the hallmarks I was fortunate enough to call normal.

You always told me I didn’t realize how lucky I am. Now I realize more than ever the truth in that. You drove hours every day for my athletics, worked tireless nights and even moved across the country for me to follow a dream.

I am still working to comprehend the millions of ways you allowed me to not just succeed but excel beyond my imagination.

You did not have to do any of it. And yet, you did all of it.

In this moment of reflection, what matters to me most is that no matter what endeavor I explored – skating, art or journalism – whether you agreed with it or not, you were always my biggest supporters.

You taught me the most important lesson I know: How to believe in myself. Now, because of you, I do, too.

As I move into the next season of life, I am planning a more literal move, too. This summer, I’ll be relocating to Alexandria, Va., to finish my degree remotely and hopefully complete an independent study at Gallaudet University.

I’ll be back briefly in December, but as I look back on what is, almost, the end of this insane chapter of life, gratitude is all I have.