Instead of taking part in a graduation ceremony Saturday with thousands of other University of Nebraska-Lincoln students, I will be watching from the living room of my parents’ home in Lincoln.

I’ll be wearing a red dress to represent my Husker spirit. Only my parents and a fellow graduate from Indonesia, who has no family with her because her parents’ flight was canceled, will be present. They will stand by me as I watch UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green on TV.

The day I dreamed about five years ago, when I enrolled at UNL, will be much different.

After the novel coronavirus made its way to Nebraska, our lives have moved indoors, including such once-in-a-lifetime celebrations as a college graduation. The virus also has pushed the pause button on jobs and futures for young people like me.

Most of the post-graduation internships and jobs for which I applied were put on hold.

After months of applying, I finally landed a position with an e-commerce company, which wasn’t what I imagined with my new degree in journalism, advertising and public relations. However, the job opportunity, along with this virtual college graduation, will be an exciting new chapter in my life.

The graduation represents my American Dream: My chance to achieve higher education and a better opportunity in life.

I am the second in my family to attend college and the first to graduate from an American university. My mother graduated from college in our home country, Indonesia, with a bachelor’s degree in education. But she always told me that I could go so much farther in life if I received an education in the United States.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago when I sat in my first American classroom learning English. I was 12. I had come to the United States in the summer of 2009 from the hustle-bustle of congested Jakarta, Indonesia, a city of 9.6 million people. I ended up in a cozy suburb of Lincoln, where I moved in with my mother and her new family.

Suburbia seemed foreign to me, with the unknown language, customs and people I barely could call friends.

As a newcomer, I spoke almost no English. This held me back from relating to people my age in middle school or keeping up with my classes. I barely remember who sat with me at lunch in middle school, but I’ve never forgotten the loneliness or the exclusion or when someone made fun of my not-so-perfect grammar or accent.

Knowing English seemed like a way for me to get out. I wanted to be able to connect with others and to feel like I belonged. I wanted to be able to call this place home.

I dedicated my middle school years to learning a new language. I started flipping through pages of the English dictionary and carried a little notebook to write down every word I did not know.

The more words I translated, the faster I could read and write. At some point, it all clicked. I learned English so well that I wrote for my high school newspaper, Lincoln East’s Oracle.

In 2015 at Pinnacle Bank Arena, I graduated from high school, wearing a blue cap and gown. I hugged my classmates and looked out at a crowd of proud parents, including mine, who smiled and took photos of their children walking across the stage.

When I got into UNL, I wondered if I should pursue journalism, a language-based major. But I jumped into it, and it led me to working at The World-Herald and getting thrown into difficult reporting assignments. When I first saw my byline on a section-front story, I felt like I belonged here.

My hard work helped me accomplish my goals, and graduation is the symbol of that.

Although Saturday won’t look like we all hoped it would, it still marks an important milestone.

I miss my native Indonesia, but I feel blessed to be in Nebraska, a place I now call home. I have learned a lot here in the state of prairie grass and cornfields, where people will always lend a hand to support each other.

I’ve witnessed how the Nebraska community still helps one another, whether it’s health care workers sacrificing their time and safety, a local business producing hand sanitizer or local residents sewing masks for hospitals that had supply shortages.

After living in Nebraska for a decade, I’ve learned that success is more than just about hard work — it’s also about uplifting one another. When I face disappointments and unexpected changes, I have to continue to work hard, moving forward and giving back.

And that’s the best lesson I will carry as I head into an uncertain future.

Mia Azizah is graduating Saturday from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a major in journalism, advertising and public relations. She has been a reporting fellow at the Omaha World-Herald since January.

sazizah@owh.com, 402-444-1042

twitter.com/@mia_azizah11

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