One thing I’ve learned in the past two-and-a-half years is that you’re never really ready to leave college. You’re never ready to stop learning, you’re never ready to be separated from your friends, and you’re definitely never ready to take on the challenges and responsibilities associated with being a “real person.” So despite all this, why did I make the decision to graduate early, to leave the comfortable confines of Duke University after just three years? The answer is simple: love. Now before you start jumping to any crazy conclusions, let me clarify. I don’t mean love related to two human beings; I mean a love for something, a passion, a calling. And what exactly is that powerful that would make me want to leave my Gothic Wonderland in Durham? It was my dream of becoming a professional sports journalist.Soon after stepping into my Intermediate Microeconomics class freshman year and realizing that Economics wasn’t the major for me, I found myself racking up frequent flier miles following Duke’s women’s basketball team from preseason to the NCAA Championship Quarterfinals and covering home volleyball and football games for The Duke Chronicle. It was then, in the second semester of my freshman year, that I had what could be called an epiphany. What if journalism were to no longer exist in my life? I felt my heart sinking and my mind turn to mush because though I’ve loved every single one of the Political Science classes I’ve taken, my ultimate goal was not to end up in the White House or on The Hill, but rather, in the stadium or on the court, typing away rapidly seconds after the end of a game. In that moment, I knew that journalism wasn’t just a high school or college extracurricular activity; it was something I wanted to pursue professionally.Since my first published article in the Sunny Hills Accolade to my latest piece for The Associated Press, I’ve had a passion for journalism. Interacting with people, crafting stories, watching and analyzing games–it was something I loved, something I was always hesitant to give up, something I never gave up. And when I realized I could graduate early and still complete my major, certificate, and minor, there was really no doubt in my mind that it was the right choice for me. People often ask me if I thought the decision through, if I realize that I can never get that senior year college experience back, that in the long run, $54,000 really isn’t that much. And though I’ve evaded those questions with a vague answer about how I know what I’m doing, that it’s the best option for me, and that I can’t justify spending that much money taking joke classes and lounging around all day, I was never quite able to articulate how I just knew, at least not until being home for winter break with my family.
We’re never really ready to leave college, the same way we’re never really ready to leave our high school, our family, our hometown. But why do we do it? Because we are pursuing a childhood dream, searching for a greater purpose in life, and hoping to grow and learn along the way. We don’t do things because they are comfortable, convenient, or easy. We do them because we have goals in mind, passions we want to follow. I’m not ready to leave college, but I wouldn’t have been a year from now either. What I am ready for, however, is to finally take a real crack at doing what I love. That last year of college is irreplaceable, I’m sure, and though I’ll never be able to really have that four-year experience, one thing I know for certain. It’s never too early for me to start doing something I’ve wanted to since childhood. The little Patricia in second grade who would make weekly “Lee Family Newsletters” on Microsoft Publisher with made-up stories, pictures, and headlines would have been amused–and not surprised in the slightest–that I’m graduating early to pursue a lifelong (and perhaps sometimes latent) dream.