When I say that the events of this weekend were a decade in the making, I am not exaggerating. As I started to reflect on how long it has taken me to get here, I realized that it was almost exactly ten years ago that I was finishing my EMT-B certification and starting work in a rescue squad with one of my best friends. Out of that grew my decision to go to medical school, the post-baccalaureate pre-medical program, and a year of lab work.

Four years later, I started medical school. It’s taken me another six to get through, for reasons ranging from the enormous tragedy of Katrina to much more personal struggles. There were so many times I asked myself whether it was worth it, whether I really wanted this. I felt as if I was flinging myself at a brick wall repeatedly, wondering which was going to break first, the wall or me.

(Spoiler alert: It was the wall.)

I am still adjusting to the idea that I am really finished. Right up until we walked down that aisle, I was waiting for some member of the administration to come running over and tell me that they had found a mistake, that I wasn’t actually finished. It seems surreal that this battle I have been waging with every fiber of my being for years now is finally over. I can breathe again, relax a little.

Of course, it’s a brief respite, more like a rest stop than a finish line. The next marathon starts in a month, when I’ll be pouring myself into residency and all of the challenges which come with it. In truth, I’ve already started studying for July and for the next (and last) USMLE board exam, which I plan to take in the fall. It would be easy for this victory to be lost in the shuffle of moving on to the next thing, both literally with our upcoming inter-state transplantation and on a more metaphysical level, but that wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be fair to myself. And it wouldn’t be much fun either. To honor that, I’ve taken a few days to celebrate and really soak in this moment.

Today, I am standing on the rubble of that blasted wall and planting the triumphant conquerer’s flag on top of it. I’m doing my victory dance. I am shedding tears of relief, and shedding my skin to reveal the new me that has been growing inside for the last decade. Today is all about the finish line.

Tomorrow, the journey continues.