This is all I know so far

Brooke J. Freundschuh, Editor-in-Chief

The truth is that more than anything, college teaches you how much you don’t know. Growing up, I never at any point thought there was another option for me post high-school graduation than going to college. Despite the fact that my grandmother and my father never went to college, I knew there was no other option. There was no question of “if” I was going to college, only “where?”

Returning home from my summer 2019 internship to find all my belongings packed in boxes and my sister sleeping in the now empty, refurbished bedroom that had been my safe haven for twelve years, I knew it was sink or swim from there on out. 

I didn’t even know UNA existed until my junior year of high school when my best friend, Lacey Jane, decided she would be going to UNA in the fall of 2018. I always thought I would go to the University of Alabama, because when you’re a kid in Alabama you end up at Alabama or Auburn, and this crimson tide girl wasn’t going to Auburn. As fate —and the fact that I subconsciously mirrored everything Lacey did— had it, I ended up in Florence. I spent my whole life, especially my teenage years, obsessed with classic rock, never knowing about Muscle Shoals. 

The day my family moved me into my dorm, I laid on the bed and sobbed. All I wanted was to crawl under the covers and hide, but it was so stifling and hot in my Hawthorne third-floor double that I couldn’t bear the covers. Once I finally calmed down and thought I might drift off to a nap, the band started playing on the practice field. But staring at the ceiling turned into a whirlwind of excitement and new experiences. I ended up in the back of a cop car my first night. (Only because my friend’s car got hit in the parking deck and the officer took us to see the damages, but I should still get points for that one.) I fell hopelessly in love with the very first boy who showed me any attention in college and found myself sobbing on the floor over him in the arms of a girl I’d only known for a few weeks before midterms had started. “All Too Well (10 minute Version) (Taylor’s Version)” has been streamed all the more times because of it. I found my way to the Student Publications office at UNA and took the position of staff writer at the Flor-Ala. Student media has been my livelihood ever since. 

Before I knew about UNA, I was fifteen and working my first job at my school’s daycare. I sat in the lobby eating a snack to cure my low blood sugar and I started a conversation with the mother of two of the children I took care of. It was the eve of a long weekend, and she told me she was taking the kids to south Alabama to stay with her sister’s family and her parents. This was seemingly insignificant small talk, until I blinked and it was five years later and her sister’s family were the people I spent my holidays with. Upon arriving at UNA, I met Joshua, the nephew of the woman I spoke to at the daycare and the cousin of one of the children I grew closest to from my first job. 

Starting our relationship rather quickly after my first-semester freshman heartbreak in what we didn’t know were the last few normal months before Covid-19 struck, eventually separated by financial trouble and eight months of long distance, we made it, somehow. He has shown me what healthy, fulfilling love looks like, and I never had to ask. After years of dreaming and wishing other people would be the people I needed and wanted them to be, I found the one who is everything I ever needed without even trying. I would say we finished growing up together, but we’re still at it, and I hope we never stop.

2022 was simultaneously one of the most joyous and one of the hardest years of my life. Of all the milestones reached, perhaps the greatest one will always be the year I learned to stand my ground even when everything was on the line. A dear old friend used to always remind me, “advocate for yourself.” I never knew what that meant until they tested everything I believed in. It’s an idea that has been reiterated many times in many ways, but as Shoals native Jason Isbell sings in “Different Days,” a song about personal growth and change, “the right thing is always the hardest thing to do.” 

Now college has come, and in four short months, will be gone. Lacey, who didn’t stay at UNA, but joined the United States Air Force, a step that I, for once, didn’t mimic, will be the maid of honor in my and Joshua’s wedding in June. We’ll get married in the house where we fell in love one snowy December night, in the college town we managed to stay in, despite all odds. The kids from the daycare will be our ring bearer and flower girl. Everyone I once wished to have there, won’t be, but everyone who is meant to be, will. I’m the editor-in-chief of the newspaper I joined at entry-level three-and-a-half years ago. 

Collaborating with budding professionals who are all in the same boat as me and rushing to patch the leaks with them, making lifelong friends, learning lifelong skills, developing creatively and training the people who will take my place, telling stories that may otherwise go unheard – that’s why I love student media. 

I’m going to graduate this spring. I spoke to Mr. Perfectly Fine for the first time in three years over Christmas break and we made amends. I have the best friend I could have ever asked for. She laid low with me in the trenches for months that felt like years. All is well. 

If an 18-year-old me looked around the newsroom where I now sit, she’d be able to pick out two or three familiar faces, but the one she’d recognize the least would be her own. All I know so far is that I have no idea what the future holds or who I will be in four more years. If a 15-year-old me could have only seen that her hard work would pay off and she’d get everything she ever wanted, I hope she would’ve been a little less anxiety-ridden. Regardless, 22-year-old me is here now. All I know so far is that I’ve made it this far. 

All I know so far is it’s ignorant to assume that everyone you love has your best interest at heart, and people you trust will break your heart and soul. But regardless, kindness, empathy and respect for others is always the answer. All I know so far is that if you can grow and change without ever losing who you are at your core, you’ve already won.

Taylor Swift’s music has been a soundtrack to my life since I was six years old. My first article in the Flor-Ala was about her. Last year she released the song that means the most to me of them all, so I’ll leave you with words from it that speak better than I can:

“There were pages turned with the bridges burned. Everything you lose is a step you take, so make the friendship bracelets; take the moment and taste it. You’ve got no reason to be afraid. You’re on your own, kid. You can face this. You’re on your own, kid. You always have been.”