As I sit down to write this reflection, I find myself fixated on my collection of plants. There’s the jade plant my father gave me during freshman move-in. The rose bush gifted to me after an unfortunate event involving a glass of water and my already slow laptop. The abandoned aloe vera I adopted walking home from a birthday dinner in Decatur Square. Over four years and twenty-two plants, I have made a little garden for myself—one that feels representative of my time at Emory: little things representing little joys and little sorrows. This garden has not always been easy to keep; plants require space, and love, and time—things that I have not always been capable of giving but have learned to master well enough to allow my plants to grow, and live, and give joy.

In many ways, I think plants and college students are not all that different at their core. We both have been taken from our original environment, searching for a place to put our roots down. We both thrive in unlikely places, experiencing growth and stress. And, yes, we both need space, love, and time if we have any hopes of thriving. At the beginning of my Emory career, I looked for those things in all the wrong places. I tried to mold myself into an image of a perfect and polished college student. I fought for love from people who were unwilling to give it. I denied myself time to sleep and dream. Yet, in the end, I found it all in the most unlikely places, and I, like many of my plants, learned to grow, and live, and give joy to others.

There are many things I can say about how I made my time at Emory worthwhile, and what I wish I had done better. I can tell you about the importance of drinking water, eating, and sleeping. I can tell you never to convince yourself that denying yourself any of those things translates into intelligence and ambition. I can tell you to believe in yourself and never doubt your humanity and worth. These things are all true, yes, but to be honest, when I think about the moments at Emory that made the loneliness, soul-searching, and bad nights worth it, I think about laughing until my stomach hurts on the Kaldis patio–or dyeing my roommate’s hair while listening to Lorde. I think about walking with my professor and her dog in Lullwater and celebrating Halloween with good friends and bad wigs. I think about SHINE, and Residence Life, and every Research Team I have ever been a part of, and all the people who have made me laugh hard, or think critically, or feel deeply. Any growth and success I have experienced are wholly owed to these little moments with the people I have loved most. It is owed to my family’s sacrifice and the kindness of strangers who became my closest friends. In truth, that is the greatest gift Emory gave me—a community that has given me comfort unconditionally, taught me to give kindness abundantly, and let me be myself unashamedly.

When I leave Emory, I will also leave my beloved garden—and will be beyond the reach of the wonderful friends and faculty that it has come to represent. Each plant will have a new home: some will go to my professors and mentors who have empowered and shaped me, some will go to the friends whose presence has given me the greatest joys of my life, and some will go to my freshman residents whose Emory journey I am proud to be a small part of. Yet, wherever my plants go, I am certain that they will learn to grow, and live, and give joy in their new environments. Similarly, when my graduating class leaves Emory for the last time, so will we all.

Tara Djukanovic is a Serbian-American woman from Johnston, Iowa. She served as a president of Project SHINE, the editor-in-chief of The Emory Journal of Society, Politics, and Ethic and as a Resident Advisor and Community Coordinator. She will be attending Harvard Law School in the fall.