I graduated yesterday.
In a chaotic gymnasium after a cancelled outdoor ceremony, one of the most important and influential chapters of my life came to an end. Despite the fact that we didn’t get to walk across the stage, I feel so beyond blessed to have been able to bring this all to a close with some of my most favorite people in the entire world beside me. My emotions have been at an all-time high ever since, and my head is still reeling with excitement, fear, sadness, hope, and everything else that has come along with the bittersweet nostalgia of yesterday morning. I couldn’t have chosen a better place to call my home than CU - And though there will never be enough words to properly encompass all that this school has done for me, I feel that I owe it to my alma mater to do my best at saying thank you in one of the only ways I know how. So, here it is: A much-too-long, much-too-sappy recollection of the last 1,460 days of my life (and then some). I recommend you go grab your favorite pint of ice cream and settle in for this one.
When I first arrived at CU Denver four years ago, I was a significantly different person in comparison to who I feel I am now. A crippling anxiety disorder defined me, a manipulative relationship kept me from realizing my worth, and an overall lack of confidence made me feel unsure of everything. Everything, that is, aside from a simple truth I had repeatedly told myself:
I was here to make music.
My initial decision to study songwriting was one that didn’t come lightly. For the majority of my life up until this point, I had been training as a competitive soccer player, and thought I would be going to school primarily for the sport, while taking up a career in communications or journalism on the side. But at the end of my sophomore year of high school, the near-incessant bullying that had continuously come my way was enough to make me quit the sport, despite my incredible love and devotion to it throughout what had been the past twelve years. I still vividly remember sitting on the floor of my room, sobbing into the phone I had just used to call my high school coach and tell him I was quitting. I had a fever of over 100 degrees, which had lasted over three days due to my emotional inability to properly care for myself at the time. I was having panic attacks daily, each lasting between 45 minutes to over an hour, accompanied by hyperventilation, tunnel vision, and loss of feeling in my extremities. I was at my lowest low, and was searching desperately for a way out.
My parents had left the room so I could make the call on my own, but the second I put the phone down, my body set itself on fire. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe - Until my gaze locked onto the Ibanez guitar sitting in the corner of my room. I picked it up and began to play some of the only chords I knew how (I had taken a basics class my freshman year), and started to sing. At that point, it was mostly just melodic sobbing, but within the hour I had written a song.
It wasn’t my first song; I had been writing and performing original music since I was 12 years old, but it was what I now consider to be THE song - The song that made me realize there was no way I could survive in this world if I wasn’t writing music. (It exists privately on the internet, but you can hear it here.) Then and there, in a literal puddle of my own tears on my bedroom floor, I promised myself that this is what I would do for the rest of my life.
A few years and at least 50 solo gigs later, I was applying for colleges. My only real criteria: They had to have a good music program. I was accepted into all four of my top choices, but after touring the majority of them and making some obnoxiously in-depth pros and cons lists for each, I decided that only one felt right to me. So, I went for it.
I can remember exactly what I was wearing on the day of my songwriting audition, only because I spilled an entire half-bottle of pink gatorade on the front of my shirt and forced my dad to take me to a gas station 10 minutes before we had to be on campus so I could furiously bathe myself in TideToGo sticks. (Fun fact: it worked.)
I can also remember exactly how my audition went. The instructor and I spent the first five minutes talking about my favorite Italian foods in an attempt to calm my nerves, I played a couple of originals songs, a cover, and then with a final nervous laugh and poorly-executed handshake, I left the room.
Less than thirty seconds later, I heard my name called from down the hall. I turned around, and that same instructor was booking it towards me with a grin on his face.
They wanted me in the program.
It took all the willpower I could muster to wait until we were safely down the stairs before I started jumping up and down, grinning in teary-eyed disbelief.
And so began the long series of incredible experiences and opportunities I would find myself becoming a part of as I walked onto the Auraria campus each day. I could spend hours telling you all the dorky details about each one, but I’ll save both of us the effort and leave you with this list instead:
I met my very first roommate, who soon turned into my long-time best friend.
I went on the first of many annual songwriting retreats, where I met the people who I now call my family.
I turned 18.
I met a boy in the stairwell who asked me to write a song with him. It ended up on the radio a month later.
I began to work as a topline writer, and performed as a featured artist at venues such as the Fox and Gothic theaters.
I got my first “big girl” job as a student event manager at the College of Arts & Media. I stayed there until my graduation. It is still one of the best things to have come out of my CU Denver career.
I released my first EP & music video as a solo artist. I also learned what it’s like to make art that doesn’t feel like your own. I promised myself I wouldn’t make that mistake again.
I finally got out of my toxic relationship - And started dating the boy from the stairwell. We fell in love and wrote 4 more songs together. I was the happiest I’d ever been.
I was chosen as a student ambassador to travel to Uganda for a week and a half with some of my favorite mentors and best friends. We almost died. We also had the best experience of our lives.
I turned 20.
I took up 3 extra jobs and lived in 3 different places in between my junior and senior years.
I got burnt out of performing as a solo artist. I thought about quitting, and went through a minor existential crisis - But then I asked three of my favorite humans and some of the most talented musicians on this planet to start a band with me. Miraculously, they said yes, and Redamancy came to be.
I learned SO MUCH about music business, publishing & marketing, and started my own LLC.
I got my first tattoo.
I dyed my hair (just the ends).
I started anxiety mediation (GOD BLESS) and finally got control of my life back.
Redamancy released our debut EP less than 5 months after we started playing as a band. (Now, still less than a year later, we’ve signed our first production deal & have two more EPs along the way. Keep your eyeballs and earholes open.)
I turned 21 and got my second tattoo. I also continued to dye my hair.
I MADE THE MOST INCREDIBLE GROUP OF FRIENDS I COULD EVER IMAGINE.
And then, this spring, everything changed.
In January, I lost my best friend to suicide. I was devastated. My boyfriend of nearly three years broke up with me the following week - And in that moment, my world completely shattered. I had no idea what my life looked like anymore, and I was hanging on by an absolute thread.
I went back home, and stayed with my parents for four days while I tried to figure myself back out. The panic attacks came back. I could barely get out of bed without collapsing into a ball on the floor. I thought about dropping out of school. I switched my medications twice and went back to therapy for the first time since high school. I POURED myself into the band and the friendships I had made here at CU - And, ultimately, that’s what saved me.
I have no words for everything these past four years have given me. They have brought some of the best and some of the worst moments of my life with them, and I have grown more than I thought I was capable of as a result. I am by no means the same girl I was when I entered this program - But I’m holding onto her same dream. And absolutely no one will ever be able to take that from me.
I was always “the girl with the guitar,” in the corner of a coffee shop; “the girl with the good voice,” in the corner of a private party; the girl who wrote songs that were good, but never good enough, especially for myself - Because they only felt like a small part of me. Now, I am THE GIRL. The girl onstage nearly every night with her best friends, screaming into a microphone and headbanging onstage, wearing leather pants and red heels and loving every second of her life. I am the girl who somehow managed to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in Music Business, minors in Psychology and Leadership Studies, University Honors, and an Outstanding Graduate Award. I am the girl who is no longer crippled by the demons in her mind. I am the girl who has learned to accept change instead of letting it devastate her. I am the girl who is learning to forgive, both herself and others. I am the girl I always dreamed of being, and also the girl I never thought I'd be. I will be that girl from now until forever. And I have the past 1,460 days to thank for helping me find her.