She is sitting in a corner of the third floor of the Ingram Library, barely visible over the biology and chemistry textbooks surrounding her. It is 10 p.m. and she has already been there for three hours. She has had one cup of coffee already and is on her second because she plans on staying a bit longer. Tsedey Mekbib is studying like it is finals week and for a pre-medicine major like her, “every week might as well be finals week.” “It seems I have some test, quiz or practical every day this semester so I barely have time to breathe,” she says.

“I now understand why some people leave college with like two or three credits left to graduate.”

Mekbib, an international student from Ethiopia, is one of hundreds of undergraduate students who will be graduating come April 27 and her excitement is clear. “It’s so close yet so far away,” says Mekbib. “I cannot wait for that moment when I walk across the stage to receive my degree. My parents will be so proud. I will be so proud.”

“In primary school, we had to write a bucket list and I remember writing that I wanted to graduate from a foreign university,” she reminisces. “Now I can tick that off my list.” She is an honor student and will be graduating with honors accordingly. “Me, graduating with honors,” she muses. “It is a bit mind-boggling how I pulled that off.”

College has been the most important stage her life so far. “I got my first real taste of independence here.” The college experience was different for her because she is an international student. “Being an international student is a bit like being an ambassador. You are your country’s representative, whether you realize it or not, and people see your country when they see you. But no pressure,” she says. “Even to other internationals, you have to show what makes your culture unique.”

Graduating will be bitter-sweet though. “I have met some of the most amazing people here and made lifelong friendships. It is a bit sad that I am leaving the place that allowed me make these relationships.”

“You know that saying, ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step?’ Well, college was that first step. To graduate is to advance and now I have a thousand mile journey ahead of me in the form of medical school.

“Becoming a doctor means about four years of medical school and two years of residency. I have six more years of learning and stressing and all-nighters. It is quite scary to think about it but it is also exciting.”

It’s 12:33 a.m. now and Mekbib is still in the library. She is mouthing along to some lyrics and I ask her what song it is. “‘9000 Days’ by Overtone. It is from the soundtrack of the movie ‘Invictus.’” The song is based on the eponymous poem by William Ernest Henley. “There is a part of the poem that Morgan Freeman (who played former South African president, Nelson Mandela) says in the movie,” says Mekbib. “‘I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.’ I really do, because sometimes it got really difficult and it still does.

“But I realize now that,” borrowing words from the poem once more, “I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul and I cannot waver. I cannot give up. I will not give up.” With that conviction, she continues on with a night of studying that does not seem to be ending any time soon.

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