I get a little choked up every time I walk through the atrium of the Chemistry Building.

Admittedly, that’s a strange place to get emotional, but I promise that I have a good reason. My first real experience at the University was in that building.

I was about 10 years old when my Girl Scout troop took a trip here to the University. My troop was from the small Catholic elementary school that I attended. Everyone’s favorite University chemistry lecturer Kathleen Nolta went to the church that our Catholic school was attached to. She generously offered to teach my Girl Scout troop a little chemistry so we could earn some badge or another. So the eight or nine of us girls piled into a few minivans with our troop leaders and headed to Ann Arbor. We spent the afternoon tie-dying T-shirts in one of the labs in the Chemistry Building. We also sat in on a chemistry lecture.

That was the day I knew, without a doubt, that I wanted to go to the University of Michigan.

I remember being blown away by the University. I thought it was beautiful. The statues at the Michigan League were wonderful. Burton Tower was impossibly high. The Chemistry Building atrium was huge and filled with students who wanted to learn.

The University was where I belonged.

These days, I get a full, elated feeling when I walk through the Chemistry Building. It reminds me of that feeling I had when I was 10, and I knew that I was going to go to the University no matter what it took.

Okay, it also helps that both of my parents are University alumni, and I grew up with Michigan football and singing “Hail to the Victors”. But the fact remains that this is the only place that I’ve ever wanted to go to school.

Four years ago, I came back to the University as a student. The first time I walked across the Diag, I was thrilled. I felt lucky. I was finally here. Though I worked hard to get here, I was still aware that any number of things could have gone wrong. Yet, somehow, I still made it.

I still feel lucky. Once I got here, I found more opportunities waiting for me. I knew as a freshman that I needed to find something to do with my extra time. I chose The Michigan Daily. During my time here, I’ve met extraordinary people who care a lot about issues from the environment to taxes. I’ve met people from Italy, Kuwait and New York. I am lucky to have known them.

Lately, the feeling of luck is fairly bittersweet. In a matter of days, I’ll graduate and leave this place behind. It makes me feel nostalgic and sometimes even a little weepy — and I’m not one for tears.

Too often, I think, students here at the University forget how lucky we are. And we are very, very lucky. No matter if we’re the best and the brightest, we still have been given a tremendous opportunity. We get complacent. We become accustomed to being here. We forget that there are thousands of students who weren’t accepted and more who, for one reason or another, won’t make it through.

The University population has a reputation for arrogance. (And, clearly, the University and its faculty, staff and students are pretty awesome.) But the thing about being awesome is that it also makes you feel entitled. We feel entitled to be here, entitled to success, and eventually, entitled to whatever we want.

But here’s the truth: We aren’t entitled to anything. We had to work hard to get here, we’ll have to work hard to find a job (especially in this economy) and we’ll have to work hard to keep a job. So don’t take anything for granted. Feel fortunate now. Feel blessed now. When you walk through the Diag or up the steps of Angell Hall, feel lucky. You’ve been given a gift that will serve you for the rest of your life.

People say graduation is a time to look forward. Everyone gives the traditional “commencement means moving on” speech at graduation ceremonies. I disagree. Graduation is a time to look back. Remember what this place gave you and how it has made you into who you are. Don’t forget. Feel lucky.

Rachel Van Gilder was the Daily’s editorial page editor in 2010. She can be reached at rachelvg@umich.edu.

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