On a sunny South Carolinian morning in May, I stood smiling-attempting to keep myself together-as I officially graduated from high school. This moment capped an emotionally turbulent, academically intensive educational journey which had begun five years prior.
On the lawn outside, I celebrated with my peers. The friends I had made along the way. The ones who had always had my back. I posed for photos with them, with family, and with pretty much anyone who would willingly subject themselves to it! In that moment, we were victors; we were on top of the world. We had conquered the seemingly unconquerable--overcome barriers which at one point we were convinced would tower over us for eternity.
The Weather Channel sent an amazing, no pun intended, "summer care package" to me in honor of my graduation. Love you guys!
The weeks of summer that followed lent themselves to a focus on the business I had built with the collaboration of my true friends. With the ability to devote time to it without the fear of missing academic deadlines, we worked as a true team--putting on our first trade show!
When I wasn't working on brand strategy for our clients or frantically working on getting my affairs in order for college, I spent time with my friends. As cliche as that sounds to write, it was the truth. We made it our priority to be in each other's company weekly. As someone who had struggled with maintaining an active social life (or one at all, really) up until his junior year of high school, this seemed to be a momentous transition for me. I had finally found my group--people who understood me and genuinely wanted to be with me. It worked the other way, too. We were there for each other. In rudimentary and overly simplistic terms, we were friends. How crazy is that ,right?
One week during my summer vacation brought me all the way across the globe--to Europe. To walk in, be surrounded by, and participate in the cultures we've studied over the past five years was mesmerizing. It went by so, so fast, but I will never forget any of it. Our planes, trains, and automobiles, whistle-stop tour of the continent was exciting, captivating, scary, and unpredictable. I loved it! Huge props to our Explorica tour guide, Marina Spironetti, or 'Marinara Spaghetti,' if you're Mark Tigges.
Back on the homefront, it was time to begin the preparations for college. I had committed to Full Sail University during my junior year of high school. I felt they were the best choice because of how they embraced me--my creativity, my brand-driven thought--even my tendencies to be the 'early adopter' of emerging social and technological ventures.
I was blessed to have an amazing, and I don't use that world lightly, admissions representative, Aldania. She guided me along the entire process, ensuring I was in the right program, starting on the right date, and assisted with getting all of my paperwork in!
As I began to pack my belongings and face the fact that I only had a few more days left in South Carolina, I started to bid farewell to the folks who had made my time there worth-wile. From thanking my local choir members to spending time with my 'second family,' the last two weeks were emotionally packed.
The farewell antics came to a head on the Monday before I was supposed to leave. My friends Zoe & Lexie were in the midst of starting their own photography business. As their business guide, we were having regular dinners to catch up on efforts and enjoy each other's company.
On what would be our final dinner together before my departure, they threw me a surprise party! That's right. S U R P R I S E. P A R T Y. Thing was, I had no idea. As tons of fimillar faces streamed into the foyer of Zoe's house, I simply assumed Zoe or her parents had invited some extra friends. I was so shocked and confused that it took Zoe saying, "We are gathered here in honor of Sam" for me to truly realize what was going on. From PESTO PIZZA to American-themed plates and party favors, it was all of my favorite things--in one place. We laughed the night away by watching British reality TV. Don't ask me how that happened; I have no clue.
And then it was time to go. After a similar get together at my own dock, that was it. We loaded up a U-Haul, said goodbye to my lovely doggies (Zeus & Thunder), and headed southbound. We made it to Winter Park in good time--unloading furniture, setting up the essentials of my new life, etc.
Amid all the commotion, the loose screws, the pictures which wouldn't quite hang straight, Mom's birthday came around! So, we ventured out to the aptly named Baldwin Park and celebrated Camille Baldwin's birthday in style! I found out later the restaurant is owned by a Full Sail grad--awesome!
The crew left on Sunday morning.
On Monday morning, I walked under Full Sail's Orange, Live arches. As the days of orientation flew by, I felt the comradery of a truly creative, undeniably collaborative space. There was no doubt in my mind, I am where I belong.
And that's where I am now. Classes have started. I've settled into a routine. This chapter of my life is well underway. I am excited every day to learn, collaborate, and prepare myself for whatever happens next--for I am sure it will be great.