As time has passed, it has started to hit me that my time at my undergraduate college is over. It seems like yesterday I was road tripping to different schools around the Northeast, moving into my dorm freshman year, and muddling through the awkward “new friends” phase. It’s hard to believe that I survived four years in a strange place, hours from home, knowing nearly no one. My time away at college has changed me. I mean really changed me. Not only am I more assertive with my voice and more of a skeptic when it comes to my world and academic views — but the inside of me, the stuff that’s way, way down, feels more prepared for the chaos to come.
I got to college thinking that in my four years at this tiny school of about 6,000 students, nestled in the Catskills of New York, I could somehow change the world. Believe it or not, I did not change the world. I did not make any earth-shattering discoveries or make national news participating in protests — but that doesn’t mean my time had no effect. Sure, I signed petitions and wrote and performed poetry about issues in the world, but more of my time affected a much smaller radius. I built friendships that taught me a lot and caused me to laugh a lot — and these people were the reasons I eventually loved my college.
The truth is that after you graduate, you feel this overwhelming doubt come over you, and you start to think: Could I have done more?
And the truth is: Yes, you probably could have. You could have spent the extra few days studying for that Biology final to get the A- instead of the B+. You could have skipped every happy hour to do even more volunteer work than you already did…but at what cost? Missing the weekly viewing of The Walking Dead with all of your friends, squished together in somebody’s living room? Or that really funny time when ____ did ____? I wouldn’t sacrifice a single moment with my friends. Every belly-clutching laugh, delicious “family” meal, or low-key movie night is priceless. At the end of those four years, after you’ve walked across that stage, when you get that diploma in the mail — the last thing you’ll be wishing for is an A on that last paper you wrote. You’ll be wishing for more time with your friends, more time like the way it used to be.
Obviously, graduating college can be a little sad. It’s sad knowing all of your friends are going in different directions for jobs or graduate school — and you know you will be too, but it’ll make you tear up when you realize you probably won’t ever live and experience life the way you did when you were in college. BUT WAIT. Before you get too teary-eyed, realize this: Moving on from undergrad just means moving on to new experiences! You all have this really exciting time ahead of you where you get to move to new cities and go to a new school or start a new job in something that you’ve worked and studied so hard for. This should be exciting!
Life would be rather boring if we stuck to the same things over and over again, so we move on from here. It isn’t easy to leave our friends behind. Whether you met them as a freshman or a month before graduation, good friends are good friends. But since you love them so much, you have to let them go for a little while. Remember that it’s just goodbye for now. Good friends are hard to shake, and keeping in contact will guarantee later visits and vacations to each other’s latest city of inhabitance. I was surprised at how well I kept it together at commencement, and while saying my goodbyes to my dearest friends, and during the three-hour drive home from my empty apartment — but I think it’s the excitement of what comes next that has kept me going. (This isn’t to say I haven’t shed a few tears…)
Ultimately, graduating college isn’t exactly what you expect. Days after your last final, you are dressed up in those lovely caps and gowns, nudged across the stage, and re-seated, wondering how this all came so fast. It can be almost flat in comparison to your expectations. I mean, you hold a Bachelor’s of something or other now. Shouldn’t you feel all proudly smart and academic? Shouldn’t you feel all grown up? When the truth is, this is still just the beginning of what’s to come. Graduation isn’t an ending; it’s the last step into a room full of open doors that hold a multitude of possibilities.
College helps to shape us and to eat away at what we’re afraid of. It exposes our weak spots and humbles us where we are confident.
I am walking away from the SUNY College at Oneonta with: a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology, a couple handfuls of life-changing friends, three full journals, immunity to mononucleosis, too many commemorative wine bottles, a newfound love for rock climbing, and enough warm memories to get me through a hundred winters.
Thank you to my friends, and to my little city in the hills, for making me who I am today. I left there a different woman, and a stronger one at that.