For the past four years, thousands of members of the UB community have been telling me how they feel about me.
From creative Reddit memes to venting comments online to appreciation posts to fans telling me they love what I do to The Buffalo News writing about me.
Most of you have built your perception about who I am through the lenses of others, or hearing me walk through campus playing my favorite songs through my boomboxes from my Spotify playlist of over 3,340 songs.
Today, I want to briefly tell you about how it feels for me to graduate this week from my perspective.
When I came to UB, my ambitions were simply to graduate and become a DJ during my time here.
Now, I am one of the most well-known students at UB, primarily for carrying my boomboxes around and jamming out to songs. I DJ for events on and off campus. I serve as the UB Council student representative where I advocate and represent UB’s student body. Plus, I am an assistant features editor for The Spectrum.
What I have achieved here is likely something out of my ancestors’ wildest dreams. But, now that I think about it, they probably did not dream about one of their descendants walking through a predominantly white institution blasting two boomboxes for four years unscathed.
Last Thursday was a day that I have looked forward to for the past year and have basically spent my life working toward.
I finally walked the ALANA (African, Latino/a, Asian and Native American) Celebration of Achievement graduation ceremony stage.
To add to the specialness of the occasion, my grandma and grandpa flew from Brooklyn to Buffalo that morning and booked a hotel just to come to see me and celebrate me at this event.
Yet, when I finally walked on that stage and the cheers of those in the crowd commenced for me, I felt lost.
Lost in the feeling that it was not enough.
That the celebration of me and my achievement of graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in entrepreneurship was not enough.
I vigorously worked my butt off and sacrificed so much for four years to reach this point, but this celebration and my degree felt nearly meaningless to me.
Once I sat back down, I could not help but think to myself that I need to work more. Dedicate more time to planning out and achieving the next accomplishment on my career list.
As the cheers grew louder and louder for others who followed me, I felt less and less like this was a moment for me to savor and celebrate myself. I was happy for everyone else walking the stage, but myself.
I thought this moment would equate to happiness within me for finally achieving my long-term dream of being a college graduate, but something was preventing me from doing just that.
It felt good to be at the event, but when it came to my achievement it just felt like checking off another box in my career.
I could not bring myself to celebrate one of the greatest achievements of my life.
This feeling dug deeper within me and I could not shake it.
The same young man who impacted tens of thousands of UB community members bringing smiles, happiness and reminders to have fun and dance to many of their lives could not even enjoy his own graduation.
But, then I realized after a conversation with a friend that same day, the reason why I could not celebrate myself was because I could not unconditionally love myself.
For most of my life, I have been pushing myself for perfection. To fit the frame of what my dad and family thought was perfect. To fit the frame of what my schools thought was perfect. To fit the frame of what society thought was perfection.
This time was no different.
I was laser-focused on me not having a full-time job confirmed for the fall, the lack of applause during what was supposed to be a special moment and the best chapter of my life ending.
I was near blind to the fact that I have more chapters to go than I have already completed in my life.
I forgot that the thousands of students that I have had a front-row seat to watch cross the graduation stage for the past three weeks are all, or mostly, people I have made an impact on.
I advocated for over 30,000 UB students daily and played a key role in getting UB students an academic calendar change that starts in the fall, which will likely have a positive impact on hundreds of thousands of future UB students, staff and faculty. On top of that, bettering Wi-Fi reliability on campus through my work with UBIT, successfully working with Campus Dining and Shops to diversify food options on campus and various other widely impactful initiatives.
I have built relationships with various powerful and influential people in Buffalo, New York and the United States. Including interviewing the former President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, being invited by The White House to see Vice President Kamala Harris when she came to Buffalo and getting one of eight Black Fortune 500 CEOs to agree to become my mentor.
I went from the front page of The Spectrum as a student being featured for playing their boomboxes through UB to an assistant features editor for The Spectrum with multiple front page stories.
I forgot that I made an impact bigger than I could ever imagine I would during my time in college.
What’s even worse, I forgot to love myself during much of my time at UB.
I got thousands of people to love me, but somehow it is still challenging for me to love myself.
Daily, I would think about what made me imperfect. Making a mistake on an assignment, forgetting to do everything I wanted to do for the day and not being able to make everyone happy. Looking at my body and thinking that it was not beautiful. I have been pushing myself for perfection, but the reality is perfection is made up.
Perfection is the scam that society sells us that we fall for all too often.
Many of us think that if we were less of ourselves and more of what society advertises to us as perfect, we’d be better off.
But, what if we are perfect as we are?
Think about it: if we worked on fixing all our “imperfections,” would we have time to accomplish all the amazing things we do daily?
Sacrifice is necessary for success. I have sacrificed focusing on ways to change myself to fit the frame of society’s perfectionist ideals to in exchange become my wildest aspirations and make wide-scale progress in society.
Would I change a thing about my past?
My past, my mistakes, my failures and my “imperfections” are the blueprint for my ability to achieve my dreams.
I have looked at what society predominantly believes makes me imperfect and I yearn to change. But, I want to change the narrative.
Next to my ambitions of being a distinguished politician, entrepreneur, business leader and musician, now comes a desire to achieve self-love. An investment in yourself is the best way to ensure you achieve your dreams for yourself. Do not let avoiding your internal challenges impede your ability to be great. Self-work is the work that matters more than what you put on your resume because it is what allows you to create an impeccable resume.
Looking at what I have been able to accomplish in the past four years without deep, unconditional love for myself is astounding. This is exactly why I am super excited to see what will come with that unconditional love of self.
But, I want you to join me in this challenging journey for self-love if you realize that you are lacking it. You are beautiful. You are enough. You can make the world a better, more equitable place by caring for yourself.
Please always remember to invest in yourself. Do not tell yourself you are not good enough for what you envision for yourself. Not believing in yourself automatically plummets your chances of being successful.
With this bittersweet end to my time as an undergraduate at UB, I am eagerly excited to change the world and better myself in the process.
Thank you to my grandma and mom for supporting me in more ways than I know through this college journey and being literal reasons why I am able to breathe and thrive on a daily basis.
Thank you to my siblings Eryanna, Emmanuel and Ethan for inspiring me to be a better person and reminding me that I have some work to do to ensure the next steps that you all take in your lives are in a world that is better than the one I grew up in.
Thank you to the University at Buffalo community for continuously inspiring me, introducing me to multitudes of golden opportunities and showing me that I can truly be the greatness that I aspire to be.
Thank you to The Spectrum 2022-23 team and community for providing a supportive space, lovely friends and carving me into a better writer.
A.J. Franklin is an assistant features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org