When I came to Barnard, I already knew that I wanted to graduate early. On paper, it seemed feasible. However, almost everyone I spoke to warned that it would be incredibly difficult. Still, I did not consider an increased workload grounds for abandoning my desire. My parents have taken on more than their fair share of work to care for me. Easing their financial burden by graduating early was the least that I could do. Graduating early would make it financially possible for my brother to apply to his dream schools and for our parents to afford our educational and vocational aspirations past college.
It would also, more importantly, make it possible to save for that house with a garden they’ve dreamed of since immigrating to America.
When I arrived on campus, I was sure that my three-year journey was well-planned, having spent the summer before outlining schedules for each semester of college. And I can now say that, yes, I did ease the financial burden on my family—I saved thousands completing 122 credits in six semesters rather than eight.
But the cost of education is more than just financial.
The increased workload I took every semester increased the toll on my body. Shuttling between my family in Queens and my dorm with all my belongings in order to juggle classes, extracurriculars, an internship, and a job became unthinkable when growing back and hip pains made it impossible to walk or even sit at times. Having to constantly consider the financial implications of every choice made me anxious, and chest pains and shortness of breath kept me up at night.
I didn’t want my parents to worry, so I wrote it off as just stress from being a normal college student and kept going. But eventually, my declining mental and physical health kept me from attending classes and work.
Although graduating early is not the sole cause of my health complications, trying to fulfill my dreams of providing comfort to my family played a major role. There are many additional factors I could name that made graduating early difficult: the University’s lack of aid for those intending to graduate early, the accumulation of my medical expenses, the time appointments took away from my classes and work, and my professors and friends not being as accommodating or understanding as they claim to be. The University should provide institutional support rather than place the onus of seeking information and advice on students, but we, as a community, need to also be better when it comes to empathy.
In the last three years, I have learned that in order to take care of others, no matter how many years spent planning, achieving, and growing, it is all for naught if you are forced to neglect caring for yourself. Remember the importance of your health, and don’t be afraid to speak out in order to access the resources that allow you to prioritize yourself.
There is an old turn of phrase, “health is wealth.” It is. In the current socioeconomic system, health is a privilege to maintain, but it is a right you are entitled to. I learned that being healthy is more important than accumulating economic or sentimental wealth, but I realize that taking care of your health can come at a cost you might not be able to afford. Balancing your personal needs and the needs of those dependent on you can be incredibly difficult to navigate, and the cost-benefit analysis of health versus wealth often becomes murky.
I will be graduating in May after three years at Barnard. I am thankful for every opportunity and every misfortune I have experienced because they have made me cognizant of my own needs as they relate to caring for others, whether they are family or friends. I don’t want to advise against graduating early, because I know all too well the reasons for which one may feel compelled to do so. Instead, I’ll say this: Your goals are never complete if you do not feel complete. Neither your health nor your passion should suffer, so demand your right to carve your own path without chipping away at yourself.
The author is a third-year senior at Barnard and constantly having to call out the University for its lack of resources in order for there to be any change frustrates her immensely. At the time of publication, Ekushey February is tomorrow, so if you see Zawareen at any point and say Joy Bangla she will be extremely pleased. Her column, This is Not a Swan Song, runs alternate Thursdays.
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