Graduation draws nearer every day. With the end in sight, I completed a millennial rite of passage and finished watching The Office. (I skipped swathes of the middle seasons, but we’ll conveniently forget that for now.) The last few episodes contained many anticipated surprises. Michael Scott returned right in time for Angela and Dwight’s wedding. So did Kelly Kapoor and Ryan Howard, who completed their long careers of making audiences squirm by running away and leaving Ryan’s baby in the care of Kelly’s unsuspecting husband, Ravi.
I’m going to be divulging spoilers liberally, if you hadn’t already noticed. The Office finished its run half a decade ago; if you haven’t watched it by now, it’s on you. Predictable conclusions fill the show’s final episodes, anyhow. Dwight finally becomes Regional Manager (and, technically, also Assistant to the Assistant to the Regional Manager), Oscar gets a long-deserved promotion to Chief Accountant and, after years of criminal behavior, Creed gets caught by the police. But what I didn’t anticipate in the show’s conclusion affected me the most.
The series did close with its fair share of flashback montages set to melodramatic music. But it also ended with moments of genuine kindness.
I started bawling during the series’ penultimate episode—“A.A.R.M.” To set the scene, Angela (Angela Kinsey) has long despised Oscar (Oscar Nunez) with good reason. He carried on an affair with her husband, senator Robert Lipton (Jack Coleman), while continuing to sit a few feet away from her in their workplace. When the fictional documentary that is the framing device for the series airs, the Senator announces at a press conference, with Angela by his side, that he is gay, and has found love. He is not in love, as it turns out, with either Angela or Oscar, but with his chief of staff.
Divorced from the senator, Angela moves into a small apartment, from which she quickly gets evicted. Oscar notices Angela shopping for tents online while leaving work, and realizes that she is now homeless. He tells her that she can stay at his apartment indefinitely, and she accepts, ending their long-running tension. It’s a moment of humble humanity that got me far more emotional than I expected. (Maybe the end-of-college sentimentality is getting to me more than I realized.)
From then on, the kindnesses start to pile up. Erin (Ellie Kemper) immediately and whole-heartedly welcomes her biological parents into her life after spending seasons talking about the anger and sadness that growing up in an orphanage caused her. Stanley (Leslie David Baker) carves a figurine for his longtime deskmate Phyllis (Phyllis Smith), and the two dance together, happily reunited at Angela and Dwight’s marriage.
I expected more victory laps and influence-flexing from The Office’s finale. Although its viewership was far lower than I expected, the show is still a cultural touchstone for college kids and young professionals. In lieu of the copious, self-congratulatory back-patting I expected, the show imparted an unexpected lesson: Kindness will never be overrated.
I’m thinking about this lesson even more with graduation expecting. I’m sure that the next few weeks will bring with them commencement addresses, Chronicle articles, and Cornell University Facebook posts lauding the graduating class. They’ll talk about how Cornell degrees will open doors for us. They will note famous alumni, and imbue us with the sense that we can go on to be brilliant, influential and successful. But I find myself, at this juncture thinking about abilities that we’ve all had and developed our whole lives — the abilities to be generous, just and, above all else, kind.
The Office didn’t just conclude with lofty platitudes about life, love and friendship (although those did abound, too). The show gave examples. Oscar doesn’t just tell Angela that everything will be okay. He opens his home to her. So in the coming weeks when I find myself tempted to reflect on my time at Cornell and imagine my future in general, clichéd ways, I’ll try to remember this lesson. There are lots of ways to be a good friend and a good community member — editing your friends’ essays or helping them with their problem sets, donating your time or resources back to your community, being a listener to vent to or a shoulder to cry on, advocating to create a more just and equitable future for Ithaca and Cornell. When I find myself worrying about whether I’ll be successful or influential, I’ll remind myself how incredibly important it is to just be kind.
Shay Collins is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Morning Bowl of Surreal runs alternate Mondays this semester.