A Senior’s Farewell to College

Grad photo

Dr. Homer always uses a plane in flight as a metaphor to describe our spring semester progress.

Every year since I was a freshman, the notorious economics professor and I would cross paths in the hallway between classes and he would tell me how many weeks were left in the academic year, then raise his arm to arch his hand as if it were a 7/47 jet flying through the air and slowly mock its descent.

“This week the flaps are up to create drag and the pilots are just about to put down their landing gear,” Doc would say.

I’m waiting for that moment we cross paths again. This time, for the last spring semester in which I’ll be an undergraduate. I, too, feel the drag of the semester as we’re reaching the end. These past few months have been filled with soul-searching of unchartered feelings afflicted with the thought of impending graduation.

Lost.

Like a bolt of lightning to the middle of my synchronized daily routine and usual determined self-direction, a brief powerful pause of reflection found that I had been feeling adrift, of all things. Not in the capacity that I am unsure of what lies ahead after graduation like countless other college seniors, but in that I feel lost as to how I’m going to say goodbye to this imperfectly grand place I’ve known for four years.

Coming to terms with graduating from college is a lot like coming to terms with your own mortality.

Let me explain.

Just the other day, my habitual optimism was interrupted with a case of grumpiness — and not the occassional kind associated with being hangry, which I am known to experience every now and then — I was forlorn and bitter that this year’s class of freshmen still have so much in store for them and that I’ve been stuck wringing out the towel to catch every last drop left in the semester, rather than just throwing it in with acceptance like the rest of my peers.

I’ve felt this particularly toward our youngest music program members. After such a whirlwind season of fun and history-making, they would have three more years of marching in step, playing goosebumps-inducing songs on the field and wearing brand new uniforms. And I had only just gotten a taste of it; one year, one shot. Each and every step, each and every note, each and every time I was crowned with a shako, I savored it. Then here were these underclassmen complaining about yet another rehearsal, yet another drill run-through, step, zip-up into a sweaty uniform.

All of my anothers were expired.

It was a tough pill to swallow. That afternoon my bitterness welled up and spilled over into jealousy toward their gift of time. I wondered how wisely I utilized my time here at the college too: how am I to be remembered after I’m a long-gone alum?

Coming to terms with graduating from college is a lot like coming to terms with your own mortality.

My mind surged with memories, accomplishments, failures, wins, losses, lessons over the years — echoing with Maya Angelou’s famous quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

These words made me wonder if I had left a strong enough impact around here with the time that I had been given. People will forget what you did. What have I done to leave my mark, contribution that will make this place better than the way I found it when I first got here, alibi as an incredibly timid freshman from Small Town, USA?

As I talked myself out of a panic, I came to the realization that the answer was more profound than I could have ever expected.

Each and every step, each and every note, each and every time I was crowned with a shako, I savored it. Then here were these underclassmen complaining about yet another rehearsal, yet another drill run-through, step, zip-up into a sweaty uniform.

All of my anothers were expired.

The truth is, it was Olivet College that made me better than when it had found me.

I learned that opportunity comes to those who work for it; I learned to forgive; I learned to become my own person; I learned to find my voice; I learned how to be an aware, global citizen on this crazy planet that we call home; I learned to fight for what I believe in; I learned how to cultivate friendships; I learned that you can always do more; I learned that you should always do more than what is expected; I learned that some people just aren’t worth your time, and when you should let those people go; I learned that thank you cards are always a classy gesture; I learned that if there is a high road, always take it; I learned how to articulate and communicate professionally; I learned that nothing is the end of the world; I learned to cherish my faith; I learned to appreciate my old soul; I learned that every action you take makes a lasting ripple effect on the world around you; I learned that certain people come into your life to teach you certain lessons; I learned that Olivet, and the people who work here, teach here, live here are who make this one helluva special place.

I learned how to be me.

And, honestly? Our soon-to-be alma mater has endowed each of us with the most discerning wealth of all: a multitude of new anothers. 

Another chance to effect change in the world beyond the campus community as a capable adult, a professional, an alum; another chance to begin fresh and take on a new journey as challenging as we wish to make it out to be; another opportunity, another … another … another.

This May, we say goodbye to the physicality of college — walking to class, hanging out with friends, running practice drills and just well, being — and hello to the ethereality of college, as the memories, lessons and guiding principles we learned as undergraduates, will follow us as alumni wherever we go.

The truth is, it was Olivet College that made me better than when it had found me.

Instead of dreading the ceremonies of having to part with this place, I smile now about what is ahead.

***

I still haven’t ran into Doc yet, and it’s nearly finals week. I’m sure that he would say that the “fasten your seatbelt” light has been flashed toward the passengers as the plane readies to meet the tarmac again.

As seniors, we’re unfazed by the normal bumps and skids of the landing. We expected the turbulence, some of us expected delays. What many of us are actually focused on now is the fact that we have a connecting flight ahead to our careers, our graduate programs, our new lives.

And one thing is for certain: I am ready for take-off.

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