Three and a half years ago, the first thing I wrote for The Spectrum was an op-ed called "I Love You, I Miss You... What's Your Name Again?" The column was as long winded as the title, and I cringe today when I read it. The sentences are choppy, the grammar could use work and there are fragments galore.
The op-ed did, however, bring in a solid three weeks of feedback from readers, as well as feedback responding to previous feedback. And so began my career at The Spectrum. Soon after, I had my very own column and my mailbox was routinely flooded with what I affectionately call "hate mail."
That first op-ed was about the transition from high school to college and the seemingly dominant belief that new relationships should be made and old ones forgotten. From the day it was published, I was told that my last column at The Spectrum had to be a follow up as to whether I was right when I said freshmen should hold on to their high school friends and significant others.
Well, yesterday marked my last academic day at UB and I stand by what I wrote seven semesters ago. My best friends are still those from home. I am graduating college with the same boyfriend with whom I graduated high school.
I wish there were more readers around today who had seen the first column, and I really wish the people who replied could read this column today. To those who were unsupportive of my admittedly na??ve opinions at the time, I would ask them to not be as close-minded towards others as they were to me. And to those who shared my experience and supported me, I would tell them I made it and say thank you.
I am grateful to all those who over the years have responded to my columns, even if it was just to tell me how much they hated it or how completely wrong I was. On days when I was on deadline and felt I couldn't write another word, they motivated me to scrawl my (often unpopular) opinions for all to see.
In some way, I guess my real message here is one that hopefully will be helpful to all of you, especially the freshmen finishing their first semester - don't give up, no matter how hard it seems. There have been times over the past few years where I swore I would never graduate, that I had no friends and that there was no way I was staying together with my boyfriend.
Since then, I've learned I can surprise myself. And although I might not make all the same choices if given the opportunity to go back in time, I am definitely happy with the way things turned out.
In my first op-ed, I wrote, "I'm not going to lie - I know (long distance relationships) work because I've tried it." I was referring to all kinds of relationships, but the statement was completely pretentious at the time because I was only about three weeks into my first semester. I'm relieved that I can now make that statement and back it up.
The first reader who responded back then told me she used to be as idealistic as I was, but that she "failed to account for one thing - (she) hadn't grown up yet." She basically told me I was too immature to realize that I would not be able to keep in touch with old friends and that the reason everyone was telling me so was to make it easier for me when I realized I had lost them.
That was the first negative feedback I ever received, but luckily for me, some supportive letters followed. One person in particular knew exactly what I was trying to say. He wrote, "(Perna) is not stating that it won't happen to her, she's stating that she's sick to death of everyone in knowing her life better than herself."
Although I knew that then, even I had my doubts. However, over the years I've become certain enough to stand by my convictions despite what anyone else might think. People change and grow, but not necessarily apart. When you all go home for this winter break, call some of your old friends and get together. And freshmen, don't let your parents drive you crazy - we all know they'll try their hardest. Only you can make the right decisions in your life.
So that's it from me. Over the past few semesters, I've told you how I feel about the death penalty, criminals, drugs, adoption and even what you should do with your organs when you die. It's been my privilege and pleasure; and please, keep the "hate mail" coming.