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Columbia takes a lot out of us.

Our years here are spent working, wondering, realizing, and deciding: working all hours of the night and day, wondering about the future, realizing who we are, and deciding who we want to become. In this constant process of molding and modifying ourselves, we become focused on just that—ourselves and our own endeavors. But our success here is not a solo effort.

Since coming here, I have spent most of my time studying for exams, searching for jobs, and living my days looking towards the future. I have become so focused on who I want to be tomorrow that I often forget who I was before coming here. I have forgotten the people who raised me, taught me, loved me, and got me to where I am today. These people are my family—the people who ask for no recognition but deserve it all. Whenever I am left wondering why I’m still here, I picture them, and I find my answer.

In a place like Columbia, where planning for the future is the most important part of our days, it’s tempting to let go of things of the past—things that got us to where we are today. The importance of becoming someone has been so ingrained in us that we sometimes forget who we are and where we come from. But it’s important to hold onto the people of the past who have played a major role in shaping the person we are and the life we lead.

Neither of my parents had the traditional college experience I’ve been fortunate enough to receive. My father left high school two years in to help his mother provide for his brother and seven sisters, so he never got the chance to attend college. My mom attended night school while living with her grandmother and then again, after she had kids. Throughout their lives, my parents have made many sacrifices and worked endlessly so that my brothers and I wouldn’t have to, so that we could chase the dreams that they never could.

I generally don’t have a good memory for anything further than five years back, but I clearly remember nights as a kid when my dad would come home late from work. During my middle and high school years, he was often gone before my brothers and I were up for school and wouldn’t be back until we were ready to go to sleep. But every night upon his return, we would run from our bedrooms through the kitchen to the side door, jumping onto him with huge and heavy hugs. We clung to him, almost taking him down every time. He never complained about those hugs, just as he never complained about the 14-hour days he often pulled six days a week.

Sometimes, when I’m up late studying or staying in on Saturdays to work on a paper, I feel very far from my parents, and the urge to give up feels very strong. But when I want to call it quits, I think of all my parents have done to get me to this very moment. I remember their late nights at work, the animal-cracker canister coin jar we dreamed would add up to more than just cents, the quick pep talks that have added up to years of never-ending support. I think of my dad telling me to stay in school, my mom reminding me of all the things I’ll be able to do someday, and with those thoughts in mind, Columbia becomes less daunting, long, work-filled nights, less empty.

But much of what my parents have given me is a product of what their parents provided for them. My maternal grandpa, for instance, grew up with an immigrant father who found solace in alcohol and a mother who waitressed all her life just so that her family wouldn’t be evicted. He knew the only way out, the only way to attain a better life than the one he was born into, was to work hard and pursue an education. So he did just that, and when he and my nana had my mom, he instilled those values in her, and she, in turn, engrained them into my brothers and me. When my grandpa died, he gave my family most of his life savings; he provided his grandchildren with the resources he had fought so hard to attain so that we wouldn’t have to.

My grandpa is the reason my mom raised me to be who I am today, the reason I hold close the principles of perseverance and integrity, the reason my brothers and I are able to go to college. My grandpa always believed in the notion of family helping family, and, just as he helped me, I want to help my family too and maybe some other people along the way.

In the stress and turmoil Columbia can induce, it’s easy to forget those who have helped us along the way. But gratitude is important. It connects us to something much bigger than ourselves and reminds us to stay humble. We are doing great things, but we are not the only reason we’re doing them. My accomplishments are mine and my parents’ and my brothers’ and my grandpa’s, and in the same vein, I owe it all to them.

Nora May McSorley is a junior at Columbia College studying psychology. She can be reached at where she’d love to hear about you and your family. Distance May Vary runs alternate Wednesdays.

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Family Gratitude Sacrifice
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