After fiddling with it for most of the afternoon, I went to the school helpdesk and the very helpful tech guru, Bonnie gave my tissues and suggested it was probably the motherboard. I called in to Dell, per Bonnie's recommendation, and we learned that yes, it was the motherboard after doing a diagnostic test.
Last night I took my laptop into Geek Squad at Best Buy with an external hard drive I borrowed from the school library.
Thankfully, we they were able to hook the hard drive up to another computer and transfer the files but it was a pretty scary thing and I definitely wished I had backed up my things more recently.
One of the things I was upset about losing (and its kinda petty but still) was some t-shirt designs I have found and made. I've been pretty into making my own t-shirts lately.
So I thought now that I have them back, I would share my designs in case anyone else could use them.
I use them as one color designs. Put them on the sticky address label type paper. cut out the design. stick the paper onto the shirt. put a uncut version on the back of the shirt. paint w/ fabric paint. let dry. paint again. carefully unpeel. wash.
And again, always always back up your stuff!!