Please enjoy this piece, “Frequent Flier,” by Diana Ciuca ’15. “Frequent Flier” was recently one of the winners of the Inauguration Prize Competition. Diana says about her piece:

“My piece stems from personal experience but I tried to universalize my feelings about CMC so that anyone can relate to my descriptions. Before coming to CMC, I lacked experience with the process of flying from one place to another frequently. The process of packing in preparation for my departures always presented a moment of reflection and anticipation for the future. Focusing on these moments before my unavoidable flights allowed me to draw parallels between the process of getting ready to leave for a new destination and the journey of college. In both scenarios, my skills improved through practice, as I gained familiarity with planning for the future. The theme “Leadership in the Liberal Arts” was reflected in my own ability to lead my own life successfully, as brought out by my time and travels as a student at CMC.
“The competition might have prompted more people to think about their college experience as a whole and what differentiates CMC from other elite colleges. This happened to me. I might have overlooked how much I gained from my first few years at CMC without the opportunity to gather my thoughts and share them on a public platform. Likewise, an annual prize could generate more art and creativity in the community, which would definitely be a wonderful thing.”

The flight is in 10 hours.

Your bags lie wide open, begging for nourishment. The dorms close for winter vacation, forcing you back to the East Coast after your first semester of college. Unwilling to accept the fate of leaving (or simply exercising your procrastinating skills), you’ve left packing to the last minute. Since you’ve made the journey across the U.S. before, a veil of confidence steers your hectic movements. Rapidly, you shove wrinkled shirts, shorts, and all your dirty laundry in your suitcase to wash at home. There’s no time for that now. As the flight time approaches, your problems are blamed on drowning in finals week stress. Somehow, you managed to stay afloat, yet more like Titanic’s Rose on a wooden plank rather than yachting around like you imagined. High school did not prepare you for optimal time management and prioritizing. Too many recent all-nighters wrecked your sanity. As you watch the demise of your organizational skills, you wonder how you ever got accepted in the first place.

To calm yourself, you plop onto your unmade bed and repeat “You’re leaving soon. Don’t freak out. Clean this mess. It will be okay. This needs to get done.” Some deep-rooted anxiety sets the motivational gears in motion. There’s nothing stopping your workflow. It’s the clothes-packing Olympics and you’re striding through the homestretch. Though, you should probably quicken your step.

Instead of relying on a taxi, you asked a new friend for the favor to drive you to LAX. Too soon, the phone rings with your ride’s caller ID. You answer with polite pleas to wait 5 minutes, promising to be quick. A few minutes pass and you call back to beg for help with your bags instead of rushing down yourself. Finally, you secure your belongings and restless body in the car seat. Your breathing eases to a gentle pace as the car threads through traffic as you patiently wait for your next stop among many.

Thoughts of the road remind you of other pathways. The mind works like the cement highways, as you can arrive at the same destination through many various directions. The most frequented routes gain width, transforming from 6th street into the I-10. These changes allow for better access of behaviors, turning them into trained habits. You have never experienced the life of casually traveling across a country, so you map fresh territory through panic packing, clumsily paving new roads.

An announcement wakes you up from your mindless slumber while standing in line. The plane boards in 20 minutes. Ferociously untying your laces, you struggle to blast through the security check, ripping off your shoes and emptying your pockets. The TSA agent pulls you over to unravel your belongings. Something strange appeared in the scanner. It found some liquids you forgot to remove. You make it through unscathed and run faster than you ever had at Ducey gym.

Another chair awaits you, as does the struggle of lifting your massive carry-on. As the plane takes off, nerves hit. Sinking into your seat, the belt restrains your worries. Remnants of the freedom of college life linger on your mind as the mountains, deserts and sparkling waters engulf greater Los Angeles, including your new address. Your ears pop as do your thoughts about where to call home. Maybe you fear how much you’ve grown, or how much you miss the familiar.

“You have arrived safely at your destination. Welcome,” the pilot announces after a satisfying flight. Upon exiting the automatic glass doors, an unexpected cool wind smacks you in the face. Circling around baggage claim, you nervously wait for your mother to pick you up. She’s late, as usual. Symptoms of disorganization run in the family, but there’s no medical history to insure this preexisting condition. It must be something to figure out on your own, a duty you’re becoming well-acquainted with.

Questions about college pour out, as you wonder what career your major could lead you to. Strangers ask about it, leaving you with the vague task of outlining your future goals. You wonder when you will figure it all out. Now, brimming with uncertainty, you might as well resort to psychics or a Magic 8 Ball to predict your future. To avoid the stress, you ward off the question of what will happen next with grandiose schemes of consulting success or entrepreneurship through a start-up. It seems these are merely dreams. Nothing short of changing with world will impress your eager audiences, many of whom have never heard of your college before. That’s no problem – one day, you will make them remember it.

The flight is in one week.

Your bags contain some essentials, like clean socks and underwear, but you have yet to decide what clothing to bring. Some items, such as sunglasses and pajama pants, have already been set aside for your study abroad journey to Europe. After a position teaching Biology for a non-profit organization last summer in Thailand, you no longer fear leaping into the unknown. You have become friends with the feeling of anxiety when faced with the unfamiliar.

From experience, you have noticed a tendency to stuff your suitcase full with items you seldom wear. Yet, your future climate differs drastically from the cloudless California weather. Learning to balance your fashion choices reminds you of allocating proper time to work and play, a skill you only began to master last semester. You need as many short sleeved shirts and dresses as the occasions you plan to take off the three sweaters protecting you from subzero winter weather. These decisions, among many, prompt confusion.

“Why did you pick the location you chose?” inquired your friends before teary goodbyes. Why study abroad at all? Why leave a place in which you have finally established yourself only to uproot these connections?

Stories of personal maturity intrigued you as much as the promise of becoming cultured in an international world. Living in a system of interconnected economies, the opportunity to explore new lands fell into your lap like a reasonable next step. You aspire to become a global citizen. Prior to the tangible feeling of packing boots and gloves for your voyage, the future destination seemed more like words floating around as a nice phrase to fill up conversational space. Others would reply, “Oh, how exciting! I hear that’s a great place,” after you tell them of your plans. Although this felt validating, it did not feel real. Not as real as now. Not as real as snow, a novel feature of your upcoming weather forecasts.

Yet, this was a choice. You weighed your consequences. All these trips bring up more philosophical thoughts of pursuing your goals. As literal analogies of traversing distant lands, flying reminds you of your own growth. You believe you can guide yourself, a necessary prerequisite to leading a pack. Your navigating skills have advanced from steering a tour group across campus to controlling your own destiny across a large city where you may mispronounce a quarter (if only) of the street names.

Tomorrow at this time, you will be gone. Family and friends cannot fit in a suitcase, so you carry memories instead. Confidence resides next to those, as well as the worry of being a stranger in a strange land all over again. Happiness comes from within, you have heard many times before. Success fares a similar fate. Now, facing uncertainty, you can only look back to rely on past preparation to protect you for future mistakes. You choose to pack your luggage with hopes rather than anxieties, albeit the latter creeps in somehow. Courage marks your steps into the near unknown, as you plan to become acquainted with yet another terrain.

“Please remain in your seat and fasten your seatbelt for unexpected turbulence,”  announces a woman with a slight accent through the overhead speakers. Somehow, you survived your first few journeys on an unsettled path. How something new becomes old fills you with wonder. You are now an expert on limitations for luggage weight, materials to avoid carrying and directions to the nearest emergency exit on an airplane. You might as well stand up and recite the speech yourself.

Sometimes, these things happens – turbulence. As European roads would not be the same without cobblestones and occasional potholes, plane rides would be too perfect without some rousing winds to shake you. Nevertheless, you passed the first few tests, through check-in, security, and a layover. Yet, few obstacles compared to your father’s manic driving matched by your mother’s likewise distressing tears. Falling into a slumber with your head resting on the chilled airplane window, you continue to dream of the future.

You will be fine, you tell yourself. Somewhere buried beneath your winter overcoat, you know this is true.

The flight is in 14 days.

Your bags are half-packed, a slight exaggeration considering your clothes dot the floor like volcanic islands. Granted, you have arranged them in categorical piles although your cat disregards such organization by occasionally knocking them over. The list of things you need to bring lies neatly on your desk, semi-covered in papers. This is definitely an improvement, but there is still room to grow. You ruffle through these loose sheets to sort them slightly, but you already know what you have to bring.

There is one stack of particular importance. It contains teacher recommendations built of scraps of office hours. Beneath those hide stories of friends and their interests accumulated from dinners at the Athenaeum, Monte Carlo festivities and classroom discussions. Some embarrassing memories are shoved in there, between the endless lists of contacts. Astoundingly shining, your résumé illuminates its surroundings. It’s overflowing with qualifications of professional positions in research as well as internships both around the U.S. and internationally. This exceeds your expectations.

Your eyes hop from the papers to the stack of shirts, toppling over itself like a freshman after the 6:01 celebration. Each tank top reflects upon a time in your life, capturing a bit of CMC history with it. Traditions permeate the school’s growing legacy, as you carry pieces of it with you. The college has left an astounding mark on your development, not only sending you off into the world with a formidable diploma, but enabling you with a powerful social network filled with motivated classmates. Truly, collaboration with your colleagues is the most important immaterial note you bring along as your plans and theirs may inevitably intertwine in the near future.

“You’re leaving in the morning. You can’t go out tonight,” your conscious reminds you, a sure sign of maturity. One time, you almost missed your flight sleeping through the buzzing of several alarms. Reminiscing, you laugh at such a childish foible. Although it took some mistakes, you have learned how to be responsible with your time. Choices are much simpler to make as you practice making them for yourself. Whereas living away from home initially presented itself as a challenge, you can no longer wait to have your own apartment. Responsibility is no longer a burden to bear, but a quality of esteem.

The plane departs in one hour.

Your mind races as you wait at the airport gate. You have brought courage, knowledge and confidence to create your future. All the general education courses that you sneered at for occupying your precious schedule slots ultimately provided you with a well-rounded worldview. You understand fundamental aspects of economics and government, even as a psychology major. Furthermore, your humanities requirements fueled an unexpected interest in literature. It transformed your fact-worship to a more philosophical standpoint. You can thank long nights of reading for renewing your love of books. You even almost completed a sequence in computer science. Nothing can match how much you have learned, nor can a transcript capture the complete picture.

Every step you have taken, every drop of college experienced you have filled yourself with, every opportunity you have seized has offered you more choices and chances to fulfill your dreams. Preparation for the future came naturally with time, as it justifiably involved the occasional rocky ride. Even if you may not characterize yourself as a typical CMC student, your ambition fits in with that of your classmates’. They have inspired you with their own journeys, as well as offered you invaluable advice. Although you might not have realized it, they guided you on a path of success by encouraging your achievements and supporting you through your struggles.

This day has been coming for a few months, if not years. The company to which you devoted last summer’s work has offered you an ideal position with a solid starting salary. Your plane ride has been paid for, and you’ve already made a deposit on your apartment thanks to saving your summer income.

Ambition has led you to your future trajectory. Creativity arises from your passion in producing, whether it be in an essays or as a form of social change. Your impact is endless, beginning with a dream based on fundamental values, followed by a plan outlining your vision, and culminating in determined action. Fears fade into an admirable calm. What could be mistaken for pride is rather noticed as a paradoxical combination of humble confidence, as you know you have worked to achieve your goals.

The flight is here.

“You have arrived safely at your destination. Welcome.”

The piece is being reprinted on the Forum with full permission from the author, Diana Ciuca.