To my fellow graduating seniors: the day of reckoning is fast-approaching.
When you’re in your last semester, counting down the weeks to the end of the school year isn’t exciting, it’s dreadful. That’s how I feel, at least. Most of my life was spent in preparation for college, the “golden years” of my youth, and in a blink it has already come to an end. I’m supposed to obtain all the tools for my success this soon?
Peering towards the horizon I can see the stage propped up in Old Main quad. Mobs of eager onlookers crowd like cattle on a sweltering May afternoon to watch the students march towards the demise of their innocence. Each served at least four years on death-row before their educational execution. Death-warrants are delivered in the form of diplomas.
My outlook is bleak, cynical and a tad bit dramatic, but I doubt I’m alone.
When you’re in your last semester, the liquor isn’t as sweet. The smoke scratches your throat a bit too rough. You ponder what your GPA would look like if you spent more time pouring through your textbook rather than slugging jungle juice in a steamy fraternity basement. You might notice some unsavory habits and inconvenient vices that got stuck along the way. Pray they aren’t permanent. No longer able to sustain bar-hopping four nights a week, you wonder how you could stomach that grind for so long. You cover your face in embarrassment at the memory of getting yanked by the collar from out of the bar and that night you pissed the bed.
Christ, how much do you even remember? Different days with different rules. Crazy, reckless youth.
When you’re in your last semester, you tend to think a lot about the past. It feels like I’ve lived another lifetime in these four short years. Freshman year was basically summer camp with sex. The edge to my circle of friends was non-existent, ever-expanding like an open universe. The craziest part was that they felt so pure and ironclad, built to last a millenium. Yet at some point that growth hit a wall. That universe, once overflowing with light, was closed, collapsing in on itself and leaving destruction in its wake. It can be brutal to face your reflection and the consequences of your actions. The rate at which a relationship can deteriorate is alarmingly quick and a three-week writing intensive course on compassion. But that class revealed a neat nugget of knowledge: the value of forgiveness favors the one who grants it, whether it’s yourself or another.
We learn lessons. We learn to move on. We do so to survive.
Forgive me. I forget how easy it is to slip down the rabbit hole of neurotic introspection. I have a bad case of tunnel vision and the only medicine is some goddamn optimism. And when I take a step back, I have a lot to be proud of.
When I take a step back, I can see how much I’ve grown. The tick mark on the door frame is much higher than it was four years ago. I glance at my wall mirror, just left of the keyboard crafting this very column, and stare. The man I am barely resembles my high school self and I cringe at his cowardice. So many hours were wasted back then, stuck worrying about the words of irrelevant people rather than being genuine.
What’s so liberating about moving away for college is that the people you meet know you for who you are, not who you were. I discovered that there is a beautiful world outside the thorn bush of rumors and reputations that held me captive as a lesser man. It’s a beautiful thing, recognizing your self-worth. While your nature may play a key role in this realization, it’s the nurture of those around you that wields the most power. The guidance and support of my professors and peers is an invaluable component of my current character.
It takes a village to raise a child.
When I take a step back, I realize that every decision I’ve made has lead to this moment. This upcoming checkpoint leads to a challenging level and all I can do is play until it’s “game over.” I often wonder how my journey would have differed if I hadn’t been sucked into the pinhole that is New Paltz Greek life right my first year. Where I would be if James Gormley hadn’t yanked me on the path to be a journalist instead of studying to teach high school English? Who would I be and where would I be going? Wasted thought. The future is coming in hot and no amount of hindsight will derail this runaway train. With fate as your conductor, final destination could be anywhere, but you must board regardless. And while I may not keep my New Paltz sweats or the Greek letters on my chest, the memories from this short lifetime will be with me forever.
Merci et Adieu.
“Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.”
—Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas