I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was called into the office of student aid so that I could sign my student loan check. To be accurate, I should say that the check was a mix of grants and loans.

But it didn’t matter. It was the first of many checks that came into my possession that I had to sign for $26,000 give or take.

Student Loans Ruled My Life, Until... Go online and research what it means to take out student loans and what your responsibility will be after graduation.

I remember the moment when the financial aid officer slowly put my financial aid check in front of me. With my eyes widening in glee, incredulous, and a distinct lack of fear, I signed that check.

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I should have been afraid.

At that time, I didn’t know that I’d made a pact that I wasn’t able to understand – that this first check would be the beginning of signing for money that I had no idea how to pay back. An investment towards a career that I hadn’t really thought about and a future that, as young as I was, I couldn’t even begin to imagine.

Despite a complete lack of financial acumen, I was able to hustle my way through college in four years.

I didn’t have a plan for what I would do after college. I had a degree in political science that I loved, but I was, ironically, disgusted by what was happening in politics at that time. So, at the age of 21, with thousands of dollars in college loans, I did what a lot of people do: I floated.

I traveled overseas and I auditioned for dance videos. I struggled to find my way. Finally, I decided to attend graduate school because, well, isn’t that what people do?

I wish I had thought out that decision more.

I’m glad that I attended graduate school, but I really wish that I understood the impact that these student loans would have on my life.

For the longest time, I’ve felt like I kept this dirty secret from my family, friends, and the potential loves in my life.

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Who wants to start a conversation with, “Sorry, sweetheart, but I have debt up to my eyeballs. Let’s get together”? No, I didn’t want to have that conversation. And so I didn’t. I avoided the conversation for one year. And then one year became two. Two became three. And then I found myself questioning the wisdom of continuing to avoid having the student loan conversation with myself.

One day I had enough.

I was tired of letting a decision that I made when I was barely 18 continue to rule my life. In the time that had passed, I had learned about debt and debt repayment; and most importantly, I learned that I deserved a debt-free life.

It has become my mission to share my story and to empower young people through education.

It has become a goal of mine to support and encourage other people who find themselves in similar situations.

People make decisions with the information and knowledge that they have at the time of the decision. So if you are a young person preparing for college, speak with your family about what they can afford.

Go online and research what it means to take out student loans and what your responsibility will be after graduation.

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Connect with people who’ve taken out large student loans and are still repaying them. There are a lot of people who will share their stories and provide you with suggestions on what to avoid so that you don’t find yourself delaying life once you graduate.

Learn from my mistake, and good luck!