The Next Chapter

Written by Gareen Simone

26 April 2022

When I was accepted into my graduate program, the first person I called was my mom. She had told me I was crazy when I got an email from the school inviting me to apply to the program and immediately dismissed it as spam. I thought, why would this program be reaching out to me? It just didn’t make any sense, but she thought otherwise. I was in the car with my best friend, in another state when I was able to tell her I had gotten in. As I hung up the phone and smiled at my friend, the song “So Much Better” from Legally Blonde the Musical came on and I got chills as the lyrics perfectly encapsulated how I was feeling. The moment was just too perfect, as if it had been planned. 

A year and a half later, my mother and I drove to the campus. I walked across the street in the vaguely familiar city nervous but determined. I had been unable to visit due to the pandemic and my decision to defer enrollment for a year. Finally being there felt just as surreal as actually being accepted into a graduate program that is a 180 degree change from my previous academic work. The campus was busy, seemingly waking up from hibernation forced by the pandemic and summer. There were flyers on bulletin boards of events, protests, and tutoring serving as relics of a lost in-person academic year. The fact that they were still up made me smile. They had endured an ominous stillness and were reminders of what comes with a campus community: action. There was a bubble of excitement in my stomach that was starting to overpower the uneasiness I brought with me from the car. My mom was taking it all in, just as I was, and I could tell we shared the same excitement. Not only had we managed to get out of our house, but we were close to the action. 

After obliging my mom by posing for numerous photos, the two of us were taking selfies near the main gate when a couple asked me to take their photo. When I snapped a few pictures for them and turned back to my mom, I noticed she was crying. Startled, I asked her what was wrong and she responded, “I came here from Baghdad and to have my daughter go to graduate school at Berkeley is amazing.” I started crying too. I felt big and small simultaneously. Big because I had achieved something that I knew was important to my family. Of course, I was excited for myself too, but I knew how important my education was to them and that I had made them proud. At the same time, I felt small because my actions were connected to a family history I knew I was only a small part of. A family history that spans continents and has endured so much. This is my chapter, I thought to myself, where I will be able to do my part for those around me that I love and those to come after me.

Being the daughter of an immigrant, I was raised to understand that the world is bigger than my own perspective. The big picture can sometimes appear out of focus, but moments like this remind me of the history that has created my reality. How my grandmother drove a VW bug in Baghdad, waving and those who tried to pull her over. How my mother came to the US with money hidden in her doll case, and how I cried the first time I went to Armenia and met my cousins, the same hazel eyes I have looking back at me. 

I held my mom’s hand as we walked to the car and drove home. A few months later, I walked to my first class listening to Laura Bell Bundy sing “So Much Better,” feeling big and small at the same time.