Friday, May 17, 2013

To the graduating Wildcats:

These have been the craziest days, the last two weeks or so, bustling and brilliant and brace-yourself days that feel normal and yet... not. 

You've got one foot in the bubble and one foot in the real world, and those two feet are running you pretty ragged lately, more than ever, because on top of all the seminar papers there's a party, there's a dinner, there's a ceremony, or simply one last coffee date.

It's got this weird, inverted feeling of freshman orientation all over again, all the events and special attention. Except this time you're not standing in an oh-so-awkward clump dropping your name, hometown, hall, potential major for the five hundredth time and trying to recall everyone else's. Friendship's gotta start somewhere, and I guess it comes from those introductory moments, but even more it comes from living together, side by side, struggle by struggle, and learning the magic of shared experience and growth. You've done that together. And during your final days of cramming and writing, during your in-between days on the beach, you realize - yet again - that you have made yourself a family.

From my perspective, there's no clean way to do this, to graduate from college. No matter how you feel about it, there will be something messy, whether it's your half-packed room, how much you have to drink, how you say goodbye to someone, or how many tears you shed. In fact, I feel slightly hypocritical even writing about it, because I don't know what your experience will be. Nobody can hand you a syllabus for these next weeks and months, even years. And that's the scariest part, and the best. 

This weekend, don't feel like you have to be everywhere at once. Okay, it's hard not to rush as excitement and nostalgia build and more people arrive and in a slam-packed parking lot with a dance floor and a truck full of beer, well, what else are you going to do besides rush around and find folks? It's full of fun and memory: the history you have created for yourself is right in front of you, in these shiny happy sad giddy tipsy gorgeous faces.

But in the midst of that, let yourself breathe. Let yourself be where you need to be. And if you're not sure where that is, then let yourself be where you are. Rest. In the few moments of quiet, look around. Go to your favorite tree on campus, your favorite place, even for just a minute. In the midst of the pealing bells and the chattering throngs, look around. Hug your advisor. Thank the dining staff and physical plant workers. Handle your family groupies with as much grace as you can - even if that means explaining to them that you need to go be with your friends for a little while. Help your apartment mates clean out the fridge (this I missed, and still feel a tad guilty). Inwardly bless what made your place your place - the tea kettle, the couch, the beer pong table, the porch. As you pack, yell to each other back and forth from your rooms. Blast some tunes and sing. Tell old stories and jokes and laugh. Stay up late and keep your door open for goodbyes. Cry. 

And here's what I really want to tell you, here's what you'll figure out as the days fly and you fly with them to whatever's next on your path:

It is the end of college, but it is a far cry from being the end of who and what you gained here. That's a big part of why we go to college in the first place, isn't it? To let it change us and grow us, to be open to what it gives us, lessons and loves in and out of the classroom - and to hold those close no matter how far we go from the red brick and green grass. It is the end of living together side by side (for the most part), but not the end of living together struggle by struggle. That, at least, I can say with certainty. These friends that you're hugging goodbye? There will be countless reunions, distance be damned. The bubble will burst, but the friendships will not. Even better - they will open up into the wide, wide world. They will take twists and turns that you never imagined. There will be phone calls and texts and visits and adventures and dance parties (welcome to the Wedding Years) and life, big life, to share together.

You have embraced so much and so many in the last four years. Celebrate it. Be proud of it. And know that it's only the beginning.

Peace be behind you, within you and before you as you go.

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