No longer afraid to fall: Lessons in courage and determination

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 6.07.11 PMBy Cassie Colby |

“Please don’t fall,” I thought to myself as I stepped onto the stage, following the girls before me.

Cradling a bouquet of peach-colored roses and listening to the song leading Marymount High School’s Class of 2010 into adulthood, I felt extremely uncertain about the future laid out for me. I felt uncomfortable.

Yet, as I tried to keep my cool and smile, I frantically searched the crowd for a familiar face. In a sea of excited families, photography flashes and various hand gestures, I found my grandma’s glistening smile. Immediately, I felt a calm wave wash over me.

It was then I realized something small, but pivotal. She fought her entire life to give my mother a life like mine. A life that I definitely took for granted. I didn’t consider past sacrifices until that moment.

Against all odds, my grandma gave up her own comfort to offer whatever she could to my mother. She took jobs as a maid to clean houses of upper class white families in the neighborhood and struggled to land any job opportunities she could find. My grandma and mother were constantly on the move, going back and forth between states, from Wisconsin to Missouri.

Despite unequal job opportunities, my mother received the best education possible and upheld my grandmother’s values and determined attitude. Ultimately, beating any and all statistics against her and the first in her immediate family to complete upper education programs, my mother graduated with multiple bachelor degrees and an MBA because of a strong foundation.

All of my opportunities, such as going to great schools, learning important life lessons and all worldly experiences were a gift from my grandma’s life-work.

It has been exactly one year since the passing of my grandma. Keeping someone’s memory alive is no easy task. I have never dealt with death before, and after hearing the news of her passing it felt as if someone stabbed me in the heart with a dagger, and that all too familiar dry lump appeared in my throat. I keep her memory alive through putting hard work and effort into anything I do.

Before moving out to California, she lived in Racine, Wisconsin. I learned just about everything at her house — how to walk, how to ride a bike, how to be polite, caring and meticulous, the list goes on. Memories good and bad took place there. Yet, I will never forget the visit when I was trying to learn how to ride a bike.

Looking back at that time, it’s funny because I was stressed over something so small.

Two days in a row I would stomp back into her house, feeling defeated because I couldn’t keep my balance on the bike. The second day of defeat I plopped myself next to her on her bed and huffed out of frustration. Naturally, she asked me what was wrong and I told her. “You have to keep trying. I know you can do it,” she told me.

As early as I can remember, that was the first time I saw the importance in determination. Though her words were simple and easy, they connected with my young mind and pushed me to accomplish the task at hand.

The next day I went outside and grabbed the rental bike from the backyard and hopped on it in the driveway. All thoughts escaped me besides, “Please don’t fall, please don’t fall, please don’t fall …” I felt wobbly going down the driveway, but as I turned left, I saw my grandma’s face in the window of the front door smiling and waving at me.

Even though it had only been a year since she died, I already find myself struggling to remember certain things about her. As afraid as I am about all of the memories we had together fading, continuously trying to improve myself helps me remember her. When I’m feeling defeated, as I did many times while trying to learn how to ride a bike, memories of my grandma’s strength, courage and determination help me get through any obstacle.

Though her vivacious smile will be missing from the audience at my graduation in 2014, instead of thinking “please don’t fall” as I walk onto the stage, I’ll be thinking of the sacrifices that were made for me to have such a privileged life.

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