Photo courtesy of Baylee Friedman

It has been two years since I began my collegiate career at Georgia Tech. In those two years, I have experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows—and above all, I have been reminded that pain is inevitable, but it is not forever.

Freshman year is an exciting time. We are all exploring an unfamiliar city, navigating a new life and meeting life-long friends for the first time. I could not wait to begin this new season of life in a brand new place, one that is so vibrant.

I was happier in those first few months of my first year than I have ever been. The sweltering heat of August in Atlanta brought a radiant joy which often accompanies new beginnings.

Then winter came. It was unexpected and sudden, the warmth of summer being traded in for the alarmingly cold season that follows. I remember feeling as though we had missed fall and I found myself longing for the transitional period, for a way to prepare myself for the change in the weather.

It was during winter break of my first year at Georgia Tech that I unexpectedly lost my best friend: my dad.

It was January 2017, and that month was darker and colder than any other January I have ever experienced. I once again found myself longing for a way to make that change easier.

It was jarring to experience such a dramatic change in my life, one that is reminiscent of the sudden jump from summer to winter when you are expecting the smooth transition of the fall.

My dad was the best person I have ever known; he brought a light that was even brighter than the summer in Atlanta. He pushed me to be my best, supported me even when I was not my best, cried when I cried and loved me more than anyone.

When I lost him, I thought that I lost that light.

I no longer wanted to return to Tech. The thought of seeing my new friends was daunting and Atlanta seemed more unfamiliar than it did when I first moved here, the vibrancy being nowhere to be found. I no longer had the desire to explore because, for the first time ever, I would have to experience these things without my dad.

But I did. I came back to Tech for the Spring 2017 semester, just days after losing him. It was difficult, and the winter dragged on; the chill lingered and I often found myself wondering if the warmth of summer would return.

Almost as quickly as summer turned to winter, spring appeared.

It was through that experience that I learned that, even though I loved my dad, I didn’t need him to push me—I could push myself; I could find my strength in other things.

In the spring, I met one of the best friends that I have ever had, one that guided me through the loss and comforted me when I most needed it. I found a home on Tech’s campus, a warm refuge from the cold outside. And eventually, the warmth returned, all I had to do was be patient and hold on to those moments of joy when they came.

There is a quote from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that reads, “Happiness can be found in even the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

These words by J.K. Rowling seemed so simple and insignificant when I first skimmed over them as a 12-year-old. But now, nearly a decade later, I have recognized the weight of them.

My dad was a tremendous source of light in my life, but he was not the only one. There have always been other sources of light, it just took that long and dark January to realize how brightly they shone.

Tech is a place of great opportunities and loving communities, but life can be hard. I want to remind whoever is reading this that no matter the obstacle you are facing and no matter what adversity lies before you, you have the ability to turn on the light, too.

No matter how cold the winter is, the change of the weather is the one constant and we always have the promise of warmth again.