Our memories are what make us who we are.

They determine and distinguish each of us from one another. Our memories and experiences constitute who and what we are and continue to directly influence the decisions we make and ways we live our lives.

The many stern, and sometimes public, lectures that we received from our parents were to educate us on what was right and wrong. As a result, we take such memories and associated morals and lessons to heart, and use them as guidelines as we move forward in life.

But what happens when we begin to forget our memories?

Of course, I'm saying this as a person who just turned 21 – it sounds a bit paranoid for me to bring up such a topic. Yet, such a topic seems relevant to someone as forgetful as me.

On many occasions, I'll lose track of my previous thoughts and end up looking around absent-mindedly as I attempt to remember whatever planned task or previous action I had in mind. However, I find myself forgetting larger things.

In several instances, I've asked my friends what events they talk about, only for them to state that I was with them at the time. After they describe and remind me of the event, I can finally recall it, but not before feeling guilty, and worse – scared.

Many of us at UT are still in our peak years – late teens and early 20s – and don't have to deal with memory problems. However, eventually, we'll find ourselves plagued by memory issues. The losses will be slight in the beginning, but as we get older, we'll lose more and more.

First, we'll occasionally forget the smaller things – pencils, pens and occasionally keys – but then we also lose the major parts of our lives. We may not realize it, but significant moments and parts of lives that we hold dear will fade. From our first date, whether it's in high school or college, to the massive birthday parties held in honor of ourselves and our friends and even the embarrassing faux pas that we did while inebriated at a friend of a friend's house, our memories are just as mortal as we are.

Will we remember the friends we made throughout school? Will we remember all our experiences we've made thus far? Getting older is almost synonymous with the inability to remember the past, and the associated diseases of memory and the brain – Alzheimer's and Dementia – are only a few of the countless weapons against us.

It's scary to think about how you'll "stay yourself" when forgetting the past, especially personal experiences, is a real possibility. One can hope that our personality is self-sufficient in the sense that we can somehow be ourselves even with the loss of some of our memories.

Our past and our memories are invaluable in determining the people we are, and how we'll advance in life. We must try our best to avoid the shackles of the fear of changing; after all, every day, we're changing bit by bit.

We should keep moving on, and continue making new, meaningful experiences with our friends, new and old. We should be more willing to take risks while we still have the capacity and resources to do so – even if that entails attending homecoming dances and parties.

Although we might think that such events are too awkward or embarrassing, the regret we face later in life of not doing them is one that is tantamount to taking our ability to remember and experience life for granted.

In the end, we are made of our experiences and memories. Without them, we do not live – we simply survive.

Jan Urbano is a senior in biological sciences. He can be reached at jurbano@utk.edu.