Fourth Year Reflection: Mikelah Carlson
As the third kid in my family to go to a Virginia state school, my parents and siblings had given me all the advice I might need to succeed at UVA: on dorm life, Christian fellowships, making friends, meeting boys, surviving classes, and learning how to finesse the art of finding free food at random info sessions and meetings. I had heard about the Study Center’s Move-In Day Lunch from all the Christian listservs my parents had already signed me up for. Since it checked off at least three of the above criteria, I figured I would give it a shot. I walked up to the crowd of students and staff in matching t-shirts, slapped on a name tag, and shifted my bag, trying to hide the sweat showing up on my shirt (equal parts due to Cville’s August heat and my first year anxiety).
I had just met my roommate, but you wouldn’t know it. I had all but stapled her to my side as we walked through this cute little building. I grabbed a plateful of food, attempting to hide my face and my feelings behind sliced peppers and mini sandwiches. Insecurity, exhaustion, and sadness battled for a spot at the front of my brain, and I ached for familiarity. An older girl walked up to us and introduced herself, cutting through my fog of emotion with an understanding smile and kind eyes. We found ourselves in the first genuine conversation of college, offering us reprieve from the uncertainty and overwhelming newness of life here at UVA. My fears and anxieties were quelled for a brief moment, and I experienced the first of many, many days that I would call the Stud home.
I saw the Study Center being a part of my college experience in the same way that I thought women’s club water polo, gardening club, and getting A’s in my classes would be. But unlike the other three, life at the Study Center has played a much larger role than I anticipated. Let me explain: someone asked me to describe what “life at the Study Center” is like, and I realized that life at the Stud has been synonymous with life at college for me. These past four years have not been easy—not the summer-camp-on-steroids I hoped it would be. These years, though, have been rich. There have been hard days that turned into hard weeks that turned into hard months, hand-in-hand with moments and days of immense joy and belonging. This is what life is: we break and we learn and we grow and we flourish. Regardless of how we feel, the Lord is faithful through it all. We have been given this gift of a whole life, a full life, and these four years at UVA have just been a glimpse into this treasure.
My experience with the Study Center has paralleled this theme of life in fullness. It has been at the Study Center that I’ve had the late night jam sessions, the life-giving conversations over hot tea, the all-too-competitive card games. It has been at the Study Center that I have poured over textbooks and cranked out long papers, eyes on the goal of finishing nursing school. It’s Lane’s office where my small group co-leader and I sat with our hands open, seeking counsel in challenging situations with our girls. It was the front porch where I picked up the phone to heart-wrenching news from my family, and it was the upstairs Nook that I walked back into the arms of my community in order to grieve and pray.
The other day, as I walked home from my nursing practicum shift at the hospital, I had my headphones in, listening to my Spotify on shuffle. A song called “Heroes” by Amanda Cook filled my ears and one line in the chorus set deep in my heart: “You’ve taught my feet to dance upon disappointment.” In the classic reminiscent fourth-year manner, I found myself thinking back on life at UVA. There have been many moments of disappointment and challenge, but my feet have slowly been learning how to sway,move, and dance in the confidence of the Lord’s enduring faithfulness. The Study Center has served as my home in this capacity—a place inviting me to engage with both the difficult and the joyful things in life, a space to celebrate the Lord’s goodness. To the staff, to the friends I’ve made at the Stud, to even the regular faces I’ve seen here throughout the years, thanks for teaching me what it looks like to dance and live and follow Jesus.
Mikelah Carlson, NURS '18