The Graceful Exit

By Christina Maxwell
Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2012

“There’s a trick to the ‘graceful exit’.  It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage or a relationship is over — and let it go.  It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives.  It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving up, rather than out.”
-Ellen Goodman, American journalist and columnist
I’ve often heard people relate life to sand. There is the idea that you can’t hold onto anything too tightly, even the most precious of things, or you will lose it.  If you squeeze too tightly on a handful of sand, the grains all slip through your fingers.  This is true in life, especially when it is time to move from one chapter of life to the next.  We must be willing to let go in confidence and trust, knowing that in relinquishing control of the past, we are allowing ourselves to step into our future.
Yet, I could feel the sands of time slipping through the fingers of my life as I sat with my face pressed up to the glass, squeezed into a tiny space in the backseat.  Over the 9 ½ hour drive from Asheville, North Carolina to Ann Arbor, Michigan in our Toyota 4-Runner loaded to the brim with everything I own, I watched through the window as my beautiful and ancient Blue Ridge Mountains faded into gently rolling white picket fenced Kentucky pastures, bustling cities in Ohio and finally into my new home.
“Bittersweet” is the perfect word to describe this new chapter as I leave home for my freshman year at the University of Michigan.  I’m leaving behind years of cherished friendships and vivid memories, turning points and breakthroughs, and the rock solid foundation of my family.  It’s a strange place to be — straddling the melancholy beauty of the past and the gleaming, but unfamiliar, future on the horizon. 


Yet, this is a place where we often find ourselves in life.  Maybe we are facing the transition from middle to high school or from high school to college, the tough move to a new town or the end of a relationship.  It can be hard to let go of a phase in life, especially when that phase was full of so much goodness.  How do you let the curtain close on one part of your life, and step into an exciting but unknown new stage with grace?

 I think that author Ellen Goodman has so much wisdom in her words about the ‘graceful exit’.  The essence of a graceful exit from any stage of life is in being able to let go of the past, without diminishing the immense value it had in shaping us, but knowing in confidence that we must be willing to let go if we want to grow into all of the glorious adventures the shrouded future is holding.  This is a profound challenge — learning how to hold onto the value of our past, but not so tightly that it holds us back or slips through our fingers like the grains of sand.  Yet, as I bask in the peaceful breeze in beautiful and colorful Ann Arbor, dressed in blue and maize and surrounded by people who share my love for performing and passion for life, I am flooded with excitement about growing and learning in the incredible Musical Theatre program at the University of Michigan.  I have been given this dream come true, but to open my hands enough to accept this gift, I must loosen my grasp on the most recent chapter of my life.

Christina Maxwell is a freshman at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan majoring in musical theater. Originally from Asheville, North Carolina,  Christina was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of North Carolina for 2012 and the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2012. Learn more about Christina here!

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