This is an especially pivotal time for this column to be returning — graduation looms on the horizon and I’m faced with the same conundrum that graduating seniors have faced for centuries: How do I cope with leaving? I’m asked the very sweet yet wholly unoriginal question of how I feel about graduating on what seems like a daily basis, so I figured I’d compile my thoughts here for easy access.
For some, the idea of coping with graduating may not even be a thought. If your vision of Cornell is an incubator for pre-professional juggernauts with more LinkedIn experiences than fulfilling hobbies, then graduation probably feels like it couldn’t come sooner. If you’re like me, though, LinkedIn gives you indigestion and graduation means leaving behind four precious years of your life.
Perhaps I should say two precious years — my freshman and sophomore years were valuable in their own ways, but I can’t promise I’ll be looking back on pandemic-era dorm life on a construction site all that fondly. My fragmented college experience only makes the end of college feel more bitter; I spent one year playing pretend college, two years trying, to varying degrees of success, to make up for lost time and now that I’ve gotten everything figured out, I’m expected to leave as if I’ve gotten a complete university experience.
Until the end of my junior year, I never pictured graduation as something I had to cope with. It was an inevitable next step, and I hadn’t made strong enough attachments at Cornell to consider a change in scenery all that much of a loss. Once the college experience started to deliver on its promises of camaraderie and intimate friendships, the anxieties rolled in. Every interaction is now like trying to read the future: will I keep in touch with this person? Does our friendship mean anything if I won’t? If I feel this bad about potentially never seeing them again, why didn’t I make an effort to get closer to them earlier on? It’s much harder to drown out these questions and live in the moment when your graduation year and the current calendar year are somehow one and the same.
In the incomparably profound words of my past self in fall of 2022, “having memories to look back on comes with the added burden of eventually being forced to leave them behind.” This burden only seems to grow heavier as friends land jobs all around the country and I slowly realize that the real world is nothing like the bubble I’ve spent the last four years in.
This obviously isn’t the first time I’ve graduated, but some combination of the pandemic and blissful immaturity made the transition from high school to college less jarring. Not to mention, I’ve been able to keep in touch surprisingly well with my closest high school friends. I’m sure I will eventually reach a point where I can cherish memories with college friends while being out of contact with them, but that doesn’t make the transition any easier in the present. I also — unlike most others — don’t live in the New York City metropolitan area, so I’m at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to maintaining college friendships.
Somewhere over the course of the last four years, my mindset shifted from slogging my way through college to wishing that the clock would stop. The sadness I feel about leaving hurts, but it’s also a testament to how much joy I’ve experienced. If I adjust my lens a little, I can see that my worries about the future and gratitude for the past are the same feeling, just in slightly different keys. If anything, the awareness that it’s all going to end soon makes the happy moments feel sweeter and that much harder to leave behind. I can say with confidence that I loved my college years, so much so that I’m struggling to see how the future could compare.
One thing that this emotional transition has taught me is that very few things in life are permanent. I can count on God to be constant, and on my family to be about as close to constant as anyone besides God could be. I’m not saying I’ll completely leave all my college friends behind, but my friendships as they are today are temporary, lightning-in-a-bottle blessings. The joy I feel from cooking for friends in my apartment or spontaneous trips to the golden arches can’t be replicated after I leave college, but there will be new joys to experience that I can’t even fathom yet. Graduating will mark an end to much of the happiness that I’ve become accustomed to, but it’s also an opportunity to see what form future memories will take.
Noah Do is a fourth year student in the College of Arts & Sciences. His fortnightly column Noah’s Arc documents his journey through the flood that is college. He can be reached at [email protected]
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