My place in the world
by Brianna McDaniel
One moment does not exist when adulthood suddenly arrives. No magical instance or epiphany or time when suddenly everything falls into place. At least if there is, I have not yet experienced it. I am a 2011 English Education graduate of North Dakota State University. I now live in Beach, North Dakota, where I teach English and speech classes to high school students. Therefore, I must be an adult. Right?
For the first 21 years of my life, I was constantly labeled as "Trevor's little sister." According to Laura McDaniel, the editor of this magazine (and my aunt), I am "the little sister [who] looked just like Cindy Lou Who, the sweet little girl with the blonde ponytail who didn't mistrust the Grinch as he was stealing the family Christmas tree." That sweet little girl was me, the girl who knew herself in relation to a brother who seemingly outshined her in most areas of her life, and I grew up this way, attending Bismarck Century High School and fighting to be heard, to stand out as an individual in a big school with plenty of people just as intelligent and talented as I was.
After high school, I spent four years at North Dakota State University, and they were arguably the best, most difficult, most confusing, most hilarious years of my life. I do not regret a single second of these years. I do not regret the unbelievable number of hours I spent studying or doing homework, I do not regret the nights I chose to spend with friends rather than writing an important "life-altering" paper, I don't regret my major, and I don't regret my choice to go to NDSU. Not even for a second. Now, I am in my second year of teaching. I direct a play, coach a speech team, and advise a student council. I never imagined that I would be responsible for so much, but I love every minute of it. This must mean I am an adult. I think.
After college, I had no idea where life was going to take me. In the month of March prior to my graduation date, I did not know where I would be living in May. I came to NDSU uncertain, scared, and thinking that I had plenty of time to figure out my life. Four years later, I might have been one or two steps closer to figuring out life's mysteries, but what I learned in college is that maybe that is not what is most important. Maybe it is important to appreciate the smaller moments, like when Dr. Brown told me she thought I would be a good teacher. Or when Mary Pull asked me to work at the Center for Writers. I don't know that I am an adult even though I am now a teacher rather than a student. But what I do know is that isn't the point.
I suppose now, as a reader, you assume that I will tell you what the point is, but here is the most brilliant, frustrating, exciting part - I can't. I could tell you that the point of my college career was to create a strong, independent, intelligent, prepared teacher who has the ability to be successful in what many deem "the real world." I could say the point of college was to meet new friends, learn how to live on my own, fall in and out of love, and become what those who believe in a "real world" might consider an "adult." But these answers do not satisfy. Because what I learned at North Dakota State University is that "the point" is one of life's many cliches: life is what you make it, college is what you make it, and what it all comes down to is happiness.
So, no, there was not one magical moment after college when I suddenly became an adult. The transition from childhood to adulthood is so gradual that a person rarely notices the change. One morning you wake up feeling ill, and you go to your own medicine cabinet to find some Tylenol instead of picking up the phone to call your mother. Or you stand up in front of a classroom full of students and suddenly realize that all of these kids think you are a role model, an expert in your subject area, when in reality, you are simply a human who has made plenty of mistakes and is trying to figure out life on her own. Or maybe one day you find yourself sitting at your kitchen table paying bills, and it hits you - it is just you. The moment you discover that your life is your own and you don't have to compete anymore and you don't have to justify any of your decisions to anyone, in that moment, when suddenly it is only you to whom you have to answer, that is when you truly become an adult.
I am and will always be "Trevor's little sister." A girl defined through relationships to others. I used to think this made me less of my own person, but that is not the case. I am happy to be a graduate of NDSU, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a niece, a granddaughter, an educator, a coach, a director, and most importantly, just me. No matter what path I end up on in life, happiness, hard work, and a willingness to go blindly into the unknown with only my intelligence, preparation provided at NDSU, and a sense of humor, will be the keys to my success.
I watch as my brother becomes successful in his career and his marriage, and I know that he is happy. I stand next to him, living a life completely different from his and realize that he has not outshined me because that would be impossible - we are two very different people with very different dreams who will always support each other's happiness. I might still have some "Cindy Lou Who" inside of me - a complete and utter faith in the honesty of the human condition, and I am and will always be defined through relationships, but NDSU created within me an outlook on the world that will allow me to create my own success and happiness simply by discovering what happiness means to me - "the little sister." Maybe this means I am an adult, maybe it means I never will be, but either way, I have found my place in the world.