If we haven't met yet, I'm Ivy! I'm a wedding and senior photographer based in East Tennessee. I hope you'll relax, grab a cup of coffee (or a baja blast), and enjoy seeing my latest work, as well as getting an inside look at my life!
Freshman year, I sat up in the balcony of the Conn Center toward the very end of the spring semester and watched my very first honors chapel. I looked at all the seniors on the stage, picked up a program and started reading about the different awards they had earned. The speaker told the first couple rows of students to stand up – and I will never forget this – “These students,” he said, “are all graduating with a 4.0 GPA.”
I felt my heart start beating faster as I was clapping from where I stood in the dimly lit balcony. Would I get to stand up in front of the whole school one day and hear someone say the same about me? Would my name be written in the honors chapel program or the commencement booklet with the words “summa cum laude” underneath? I remember texting my mom and telling her that I had no idea all these awards even existed or that it was possible for so many people to finish college with a 4.0. I had already been struggling at this point with the standard of perfection I set for myself, so I was fearful to set this as another goal I wanted to achieve. I didn’t want the honors status to become an idol. But at the same time, I wanted it so badly.
If I’m remembering this correctly, one of the girls stood up to speak – either at this chapel or another chapel – and the speaker listed all the things she was involved in. I don’t remember what else was on the list. All I remember is that she was in DZT and she was involved in a ton of other things… and she still had a 4.0. How was she able to manage all of that? My mind started going crazy. I had been thinking about rushing but I was so worried that if I joined a club, my grades would drop and I wouldn’t reach all of these crazy academic goals I had set for myself – really, just for myself. No one required or asked these things of me except for me.
That spring semester I started to reach a breaking point. I realized the idol that my GPA was in my life and I was fighting it so hard… that was actually the first time I shared a blog post like this. And I thought life was hard back then. If I only knew… (P.S. If you want to read that post for some perspective, I’ve linked it here.)
I eventually faced my fears and decided that getting involved on campus was worth the risk. The spring semester of my sophomore year truly changed the trajectory of my college experience. I got into DZT, and it was something I didn’t know I needed. This club has given me people who see me, they truly know me, they understand my struggles, and they love me through them. They constantly remind me that my worth is not in anything I can do… but it is in Christ. Nothing that I can do on my own even compares to Christ and the way he can work through me. He has certainly used the women in DZT to work in my life and to change me.
Even though DZT didn’t “save me” or take away my struggle, it gave me some needed perspective and showed me why college was so important… it’s more than just getting a degree. It’s growing as a person. It’s finding people to grow alongside you and challenge you. Making friendships you’ll cherish forever. Experiencing everything alongside each other. I could write a whole blog about the way DZT has done this for me. I could tell you about all my insecurities when I entered that club and the way I saw myself as someone who was good at school and nothing else really… I didn’t see myself as a leader or really anything more than a hard worker. They brought out the best in me and showed me that I was so much more than my grades. I wish I had more time with them. I pray that I am able to stand in front of them and thank them in person. I went from caring about my GPA more than anything and being scared of committing time to anything else to balancing school not just with being in a club, but holding leadership positions. Being president – something I’m still in disbelief about. Running a photography business. Building relationships with the people around me. I’m not saying this to brag on myself. I’m saying this because if you relate to past me at all, I want you to know the growth I see when I reflect on the past four years is astounding. I cannot thank God and the people He placed in my life enough. I just had to take initiative, take advantage of my opportunities, and listen.
A couple of weeks ago, I finally got the email I stressed out about in the Conn Center balcony freshman year. “May Graduation – Academic Honors! Congratulations! You have achieved an overall GPA which is high enough to graduate Summa Cum Laude. In addition, you are invited to participate in a special Academic Honors Ceremony on Thursday, April 23 during the normal chapel time.”
My heart beat a little faster. I screen-shotted it and sent it to my family. I was excited for a minute. And that was all. I worked for 4 years to get that email, and I was excited off and on for about a day. Nothing changed. The world around me was the same. The people in my life didn’t love me any more or any less. They were proud of me, and that was all. The thing I had once worked so hard for suddenly felt like nothing more than a pat on the back for a job well done.
Today, Paul Conn announced that due to COVID-19, on-campus activities are canceled for the rest of the semester. So now, that honors chapel I worried about so much? It isn’t even happening. No stage for me to stand on. No crowd of students to watch me stand up when they recognize the Summa Cum Laude graduates… We will all be lucky if commencement is even still able to take place on May 9 (which I am desperately praying for).
You would think since I was so worried about my grades, the loss of that honors chapel would hurt a little more. You would assume the idea that graduation could end up being virtual or postponed would sting the most about being a college senior during the coronavirus crisis.
That’s not what I’m sad about at all. Disappointed, of course. But I’m still getting my degree. I have the personal satisfaction of knowing that if there had been an honors chapel, I would have been recognized. And I can live with that. I can live with a postponed graduation if I must.
What hurts the most is missing the people I said “see you later” to when I left for spring break, not knowing it would be the last time I would see them in that capacity. What hurts is knowing that I’ve stood in the Walker Memorial Building and run an on-campus DZT meeting for the last time – and it’s not even April yet. What hurts is the regret I have for not being more intentional with specific people while I had the chance to spend time with them in person. What hurts is not being able to walk down the ped mall and run into 5 people I know and instantly feel my day get brighter. What hurts is not walking into a room of 75 girls and feeling their love and hearing their laughter. What hurts is not letting club meetings start a few minutes late because we can’t stop talking – we are just so excited to be with each other.
All those things I worked for were important, but for me, now I realize they weren’t near as important as the people in my life. That’s a lesson God has been trying to teach me for a long time. People won’t remember that I graduated with honors, but they’ll remember how I treated them. People won’t remember what positions I held, but they’ll remember whether or not I made them feel loved. I already knew this, but it didn’t sink in until this virus started taking things away.
So I don’t know what this virus has taken away from you. I don’t know what you’ve worked toward that has left you unfulfilled or what recognition you aren’t getting because it’s not safe for people to gather. But I know that God is using this time to show me what’s really important. He’s showing me the things that I put in front of Him and His will for my life – and the things that, now that they’re gone, aren’t really that big of a deal. What’s important is my relationship with God, and after that, my relationship with people. What’s important is my walk with God and whether or not I follow His call. What’s important is whether or not I show people Jesus through my actions and interactions. My honors status doesn’t matter. But my spiritual status does.
I encourage you – take this time to figure out what it is that doesn’t matter and focus on what does. Focus not on what you lost, but what you can learn and who you can love. You will be better for it. You will be happy for it. And friend, when you look to God instead of looking at what you’ve lost, all those things that have made you sad and stressed will start to look so small. He knows what comes next. Just be still and listen to Him. You can trust Him.
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46, NIV