Graduation ceremonies have officially wrapped up in Tallapoosa, Coosa and Elmore counties and I’m so proud of our area seniors.

Most of them don’t know me but I know them. I’ve seen them succeed academically as they’ve graced the pages of TPI’s newspapers, and I’ve seen them excel in sports as well. I’ve grown attached to many of them as they’ve had their names inked in our papers many times and it’s bittersweet to see them moving on. While I’ll miss some familiar names and faces in our papers and around the community, I want all these students to know I am rooting for them as they advance to the next stage of their lives.

This next chapter won’t be an easy one. It can be tough trying to decide what you want to do with your life. It’s a lot of pressure and it’s just a big change to go from being in high school to being on your own. 

Most graduating seniors have been long awaiting the day they take those diplomas and shake their principals’ hands. They are so ready to get out of Dodge and think anything would be better than another day of high school, but at only 24 years old I’ve already succumbed to becoming one of those wise people who say, “You’re gonna miss it someday.” Because, fresh graduates, you will in fact miss it.  

Life just moves so fast now. Balancing work and life can be a lot. I’m seriously one of those people who has to check my calendar just to have a catchup date with a friend. The simplicity of a high school routine is definitely something I miss sometimes.

Life after high school has been a blur for me. I graduated six years ago and it feels like a lifetime ago but five minutes ago all at the same time. 

I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I graduated high school. I had worked at my school’s aftercare program for a few years with 3-, 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds and I loved it. I felt like it was my calling. 

I felt pressured to major in something else once I started college because everybody told me I wouldn’t make any money as a pre-school teacher.

I began my journey at Troy University and declared nursing as my major. I thought I could work with children and help people but also make good money, so why not?

Well, Chemistry I is why not. I am not a math or science whiz, not even in the slightest, and as soon as I was in that class and had to combine both of those subjects into one I was done. If I was struggling with my first general studies class, I knew there was no way I could handle actual nursing school. 

That was one of the many times I should’ve never wavered from my gut. I went back to what I knew I was called to do and changed my major to education. 

Well, I’d been in college at least a year and I started my first education course. My professor’s first words were, “If education isn’t for you, you’ll find out in this class.”

You guessed it. Wasn’t for me.

I was sitting beside these people who all had stories of playing teacher when they were little and others who came from generations of teachers in their families and that just wasn’t me. I did love my experience leading classrooms but for some reason it didn’t feel like I was supposed to be there.

So, I dug deep and asked myself what I really loved to do. What have I loved to do since I was little? What profession has been in my family for generations?

And it hit me like a sack of bricks. Writing, duh! 

I have been writing since I was a little girl. My mother writes and it’s a generational family talent we all seem to have. 

Once I realized it, I felt at home. I found my place at the Hall School of Journalism at Troy and it was all uphill from there. I seemed to make friends easier in the journalism department because we all had common interests. I looked up to my teachers immensely because they were pros at what I wanted to do. I did a lot of work in graphic design and found out I love that, too. I’ve always been creative and artistic and wanted to do something in that field, too. Paginating TPI’s newspapers has been a dream for me because I get to mix my love of newspapers and my love of creative design into one. 

Even though it took time to figure out exactly what I wanted to do, I learned life lessons along the way and I ended up where my heart wanted to be. 

Oh, and money has nothing to do with it. Journalism is one of those fields where people say you don’t make much money but we’re not here for the money. If you’re doing a job you love, the money doesn’t matter. Money can’t buy you loving your job. 

Maybe you’re not that person who knows exactly what they want to do, and that’s OK. Maybe you think you know exactly what you want to do and end up changing your mind, and that’s OK, too. Sometimes you’re at a fork in the road and just have to choose a direction and hope for the best. 

My best advice is to follow your heart and trust what it says. Even if you take a few detours like me and end up rerouting your GPS a few times, you’ll end up at the right destination. Don’t get caught up in everything working out perfectly because it won’t. Don’t compare your journey to someone else’s because it won’t be the same. You do you and the rest will work itself out.

Santana Wood is the assistant managing editor of TPI's newspapers.