My Fuel

I’ve tried time and again to start this blog post, to begin personal blogging again after months and months of a hiatus, but keep failing to write more than a few paragraphs.

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It just seem there’s too much to say, and I fear my words will be inadequate in describing what has thus far been one of the most monumental and beautiful years of my life.

But I think it’s time I at least give it the old college try.

Speaking of college, I’d just really love to give a quick shout-out to my eighteen-year-old self. The girl who never even thought she would step foot inside a college campus. Who nearly failed her freshmen level geometry class as a senior. Who was so awkward that if someone was to say something that she didn’t know how to respond to, which was often, she would simply giggle manically in response. Who worked as a waitress, and a cashier at Blockbuster and a lunch lady with a hairnet until she saved up enough money in a plastic baggy to buy her 1997 Toyota Avalon.

I’d like to give a shout-out to my twenty-year-old self too. Who was newly married and wildly in love and did not have a clue what she was doing with her life, or really, about life at all. Who had peers taking bets on how long her marriage would last. Who was once called “Some stupid girl that I don’t even know.” on the internet by someone that she, in fact, did not even know. Who would soon be accepted to her first four-year college after applying on a whim. Who would find a spark for learning and living that she didn’t even know could exist up until that point. Who would soon let this spark turn into a flame that would change her entire life.

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And then there’s twenty-five year old me. Who was a new college graduate and a happy but terrified new mom. Who loved her family more than anything but still cared about her own passions too, and wondered how this might fit in with the expectations that society has placed on women. Who worried that the dreams she had worked so hard for would be put on pause indefinitely.

If there is a reoccurring theme to be found here, something that has bonded all of these years into a cohesive story, it would be always finding a way to fight back.

It took time, but eventually I learned that I shouldn’t just attempt to ignore my doubts and insecurities, the opinions and judgements of others and the standards that our world sets for women. That I should listen to every single negative word, every self doubt, every ridiculous expectation. And that I should let all of these things fuel me. To be stronger, to chase my dreams harder, to love wilder and to live based on not what anyone else says I can or should do, but based on what I know I can and should do.

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So do y’all mind if I fast forward to my twenty-eighth year? Because this is kind of my favorite part so far.

A few months back, I flew back to Austin after completing a road-trip from Texas to Washington D.C. with my best friend. She spent the entire summer with me, and much like the previous few months, we spent hundreds of miles laughing and exploring and laughing and dancing and laughing and arguing about things like “Should the Easter Bunny be classified as an animal when playing 20 Questions?” After adventuring and eating our way through Alabama, North Carolina, and a handful of other states, we made it to DC where I got to love on my second family for a couple of days.  I left on a Monday with a killer cough and had a few hours before I had to rush to my university, where I stayed up until nearly one in the morning with my MBA group. We were practicing for our final presentation that would be delivered the following day, and we practiced until we were nearly delusional and until I was gasping for breath between my coughing fits. But we also spent the night drinking wine and playing piano and taking goofy photos and reminiscing on the past two years and dissolving into bouts of laughter at various random interludes. I told them that night because I already knew in those moments, “Guys. This is going to be such a great memory for us one day.” And for me, it already is.

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By Tuesday morning we were all sleep deprived and I was still miserably sick, but the show must go on. And that it did. We presented to The Alternative Board, a CEO support group that we had been consulting for the past semester. They loved it, and the owner even requested a separate meeting with me afterward. If you would have told eighteen-year-old Christina that she would one day be giving business advice to CEOs, she would have giggled manically in response. But then, a lot of things would surprise that girl.

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That girl who was too young to get married? She just celebrated eight years of happiness and laughter and wedding vows (and fights and tears and gross inside jokes) with her very best friend.  That girl who would have to choose between being a mom and living her dreams? She’s hustling as a social media director, training for a full marathon, forever having dance parties to new Taylor Swift songs with her three-year-old redhead and recently returned from learning to surf and getting her finger stuck in a zipline in Costa Rica. (But that’s a story for another time.) That same girl who never even dreamed she would go to college? She just graduated with her Master’s in Business.

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I write this partly because I like to record how I am feeling and what I am going through at certain moments in time, and this moment in time is a big one for me. But I also write this because, maybe one day my daughter will be doubting herself. Probably someone will say something unkind to her. Most likely the world will be telling her what is or isn’t a possibility for her. Or maybe another soul will wander onto my blog and be experiencing these same things. I write this because I want that person to know that I have been there. I have been there, and I once never thought I would get to where I am right now. But here I am. So please, love, dream your biggest dreams. Work towards them ferociously and without apology. When you feel like you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing, most of the time you probably don’t. Keep going until you do. Focus on the good stuff. Let everything else be your fuel.

Graduation Day

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Guess what I did last Saturday?!

I graduated! From college! With honors Cum Laude!

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It was definitely amongst one of the happiest days of my life. (Though, to be fair, this whole summer has been made up of those sorts of days.) 

I’m not much of a crier, but I admittedly cried happy tears throughout my graduation celebrations.

The first tears came right after I had received my diploma and sat back down to hear final words from our commencement speakers. The speaker asked parents and spouses of graduates to stand up, and my parents and spouse did so. So I was already getting a little misty-eyed when the speaker proceeded to ask all family members of those graduating to stand. My family and friends were scattered all over the auditorium, but my husband did manage to wrangle up his family and my dad’s side into one area. I was completely overcome by emotions when the majority of one entire row stood up in honor of me. That row consisted of my family, both those I was lucky enough to be born and married into. This was only one of the many moments throughout the day where I was overwhelmed by the near tangible pride and love shown to me by my big, crazy, amazing tribe.

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Many more tears came at my graduation party, which my parents sweetly offered to throw for me at their house. They, in true Cirotto fashion, definitely went all out. It was complete with a mimosa bar, pounds upon pounds of Rudy’s BBQ, a full dessert bar, a giant collage of yours truly, a professional photographer (aka my grandma) and plenty of presents from all of the wonderful peeps that I am so lucky to have spoil me. Mid-party, my aunt asked me to open a gift from her and my grandma. She informed me that my parents had also helped out a lot. Er, I was rather curious. I opened it up to find a DVD, with a picture of me on the cover. Near the top were the words, “Our Beautiful Christina.”  Playing on this DVD were pictures of my life from infancy to the present, and in the background were both my favorite songs and songs that made my family think of me. My daddy, whom, in my entire lifetime, I’ve seen get teary only one other time (During our father-daughter dance at my wedding.), was very noticeably crying. My mom was weepy. Friends and family were teary. Many were crying just seeing my seemingly emotionless, usually stoic dad cry. Needless to say, I was crying. There weren’t many dry eyes in the Cirotto household as that DVD played.

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I may post that video one day, but for now I thought I’d just recount part of the heartwarming note displayed at the end.

“Christina, it has been so awesome watching you grow up through the years. God created in you such a beautiful person. You’re intelligent, witty, vivacious, strong, compassionate, and have this beautiful quirkiness that draws people to you. You have turned your fears into strengths and you’re living life to the fullest. Just like the song says, we believe you were born to fly…”

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It’s hard not to tear up just in recounting the day. How blessed am I to be surrounded by so many who care about me so deeply? To have family and friends who go out of their way just to tell me how proud they are of me? To be so loved that a a house becomes full in celebration of me and A DVD of my entire life to date is presented? I may be a first-generation college student, but like they say, it takes an army. It just so happens that my army consists of friends and a husband and in-laws and aunts and uncles and cousins and brothers and a sister and grandmas and a grandpa and a great-grandma and plenty of etceteras. My army is made up of the people who love me with their whole heart, and who I whole-heartedly get to love right back. And my army, whooping and hollering from rows of the auditorium, is compiled of loved ones who have given me the confidence to be the one receiving the diploma on that stage. Their encouragement over the years has made me into who I am and has given me the strength to fulfill big dreams. It takes an army, and mine was there to celebrate our accomplishment with lots of mimosas, desserts, sweet words and happy tears. This here college graduate couldn’t ask for anything more.

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“How do you wait for heaven? And who has that much time? And how do you keep your feet on the ground when you know that you were born, you were born to fly?”

Life, Backwards

My university is writing an article about first-generation college students and I was given the opportunity to be their interviewee for the magazine piece. I was also asked to write a blog to go along with the article, and I couldn’t have been more honored to oblige. 

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It’s still hard for me to believe that I’m graduating in a little over a month. Mostly, it’s just extremely surreal. Had you told me four years ago that obtaining my degree would be a reality in the near future, I probably would have chuckled at you, but my heart would have started to beat a little faster too. As a first generation college student, college was just never something I thought too much about. But then it was. Still, I’ve gone about my life a little backwards in comparison of most of my other peers. I was working two jobs at 18, engaged at 19, married by 20 and a home-owner at 21. I see now that all of these things are a big deal, a REALLY big deal, but at the time none of these life-changing decisions even fazed me. It all came very naturally. I had grown up immersed in the world of hard work and young marriage and home-ownership. I had grown up in a family that worked their tails off to support my brother and I. Partly because of this, I had not grown up with a family that ever had the chance or the finances to attend a full-time college. I did, however, grow up with a family who did whatever they could to inspire and support my dreams. I also grew up in a family that made me into an extremely determined (or stubborn, or hard-headed, or crazy……but I prefer determined) young woman. Ergo when, at 20 years old, I decided I wanted to attend a four-year college, I had both the heart and the moral support to keep going full-swing ahead. I also happened to choose the perfect college to attend. My first semester at Concordia, I hosted my own on-campus radio show (which I continued to host almost every other semester since.) My second year at Concordia, I was given a role for the play “All In The Timing” (in which I made some of my fondest memories and met a couple of my closest friends) My third year at Concordia, I wrote for the school newspaper and was given an outlet to write about my own blog for the school magazine. Now, a month and a half before graduation, I have learned that I will be featured in an article about first-generation college students. All of these experiences basically encompass what my university has been for me: an outlet to fulfill my dreams, express my desires and showcase my talents. Even from the beginning, I had always felt not only accepted at my university, but also wanted. I clearly recall confetti popping out of the tube….The very tube that told me Concordia would love for me to be part of their crew….that was sent to me in the mail in 2010 with my acceptance letter. The confetti and the college thing were just the beginning of means for celebration. Fast forward a few years later, and I’m still celebrating. I’m overwhelmed with the opportunities I’ve been blessed with; Amongst these,the chance to be an event blogger, an intern for the Red Cross, a happily married home-owner and a very-soon-to-be graduate of Concordia University. By taking the unconventional route, I found a wonderful husband, a supportive school and the confidence to fulfill some of the goals that, four years ago, I would have told you were far-fetched at best.grad2

Looking forward, I couldn’t be any happier that I went about my life backwards. Who knows if I’d even be an event-blogging-social-media-interning-married-home-owning-almost-graduate any other way?