The Summer Before

By Jessalyn Johnson

Jessalyn and her friends in Chicago

This is my final year as an undergraduate student at Grand Canyon University. I just arrived back in Phoenix after a short three months of relaxing in my Florida home, going on vacation and thinking about my future.



My first adventure upon my departure from junior year, after rushing to move off campus and complete my final papers, was a short trip to Chicago. With a large group of friends and through the theatre program here at GCU, we flew into the Windy City (a title it has surely earned, I might add) and took four days to explore a place I had never been. The plane took off from Sky Harbor, filled with adrenaline and excitement, traveling to one of the country’s most populous cities.

It was a strange experience – as I have since found most new cities are – feeling so conscious of my surroundings. The tallness and closeness of Downtown Chicago was too foreign and too big to be real, a kind of largeness I’ve never had a chance to get used to. Still, I found joy at the iconic Bean in Millennium Park, on the train, at Navy Pier, in and out of little coffee shops.

Every time I visit somewhere that is unknown to me I find myself enthralled by its very existence, mesmerized by the idea that it isn’t so for millions of others, in Chicago or elsewhere. From there I packed my memories in my suitcase and hugged my friends goodbye as I headed home for a brief summer in the humid coastal air.



My hometown is in Melbourne, Florida, a short drive to the beach and a short road trip to Walt Disney World. I spent most of my days home, with nothing much to do but wait for night to fall and wake the next morning. I used a lot of my free time to work on improving my creative writing, in hopes that I might have decent material to use when applying to graduate schools, if that is the route I end up taking. Otherwise I spent many days with my family or friends at Disney, taking advantage of its proximity and enjoying one of my favorite places in the country. The days were short and few, consisting of varying levels of excitement (on average, mundane, yet kind) with a small July break to visit yet another new state and city, far more fixed in nature than the last.


While my family isn’t one for extravagant vacations – or vacations at all, for that matter – we flew into Knoxville and drove up into the outskirts of the Great Smoky Mountains where we stayed for three nights in a cabin, encountering as much as possible of the national park. Down winding roads with towering green trees and mountain views we journeyed into Gatlinburg, exploring the aquarium (where I met a penguin) and finding local restaurants to try.

As a portrait photographer I was most excited to find an open field in the mountains to take photos at sunset, watching the world be beautiful through a camera lens until we concluded our trip and I finished the remainder of my time with my family back in Florida. Once again I was in awe of the uniqueness I wasn’t accustomed to. It’s incredible to me how different the world is, even just within the borders of the United States, and how lucky we are as a humans to embrace the generous planet that has graced us so brilliantly.

Newport Beach


Shortly after arriving back in Arizona, just a couple weeks away from my senior year of college, a few of my close friends and I loaded up our car and took off for the West Coast. We drove through the desert as it gave life to California green until we could hear the waves of the Pacific right outside the house in which we would reside for a weekend. Taking in the gentle sea breeze and the cooler weather, we relished our little vacation on the beach, walking through the water and sitting out on the sand, soaking up the sun and our final days of pure relaxation before heading back to school.

Though I am no stranger to the beach, having lived on each coast, I had never been to this particular part of the Golden State and felt the newness of it, the out-of-the-ordinary extravagance and rarity, the straying from routine remarkability. It’s these moments, the ones that feel wonderfully different, that I believe are the most important – the time spent experiencing life, by our own preference and jurisdiction, away from all the commonplace motions, the comfort and predictability of schedule.

Looking Forward

After my sporadic summer of fleeting travel – though bland to those who spent their time in Europe or Asia for months on end – I have discovered a deeper appreciation for time itself, not only how quickly it passes but how fragile it is, how it is both immense and nothing at all. It’s unforgiving, and our choices and decisions mean everything in each moment, no matter our desires or our shortcomings.

With such a thing in mind, especially as graduation will approach faster than I know, there is so much to consider about my own future. While I don’t know in detail where I’ll end up, as I’m sure most of us don’t, taking advantage of the time we have been blessed with is crucial to our success; going into this school year I will begin to do things I have never done, readying myself for a life I cannot predict. Wherever my journey leads me, whether I cross the country once more or even possibly stay here in Arizona, the only thing I can be sure of is that I will never cease to search for those moments of joy, the feeling of life, both settling in comfort and welcoming the unknown.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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