It was your dream to come here since the third grade. You have lived here, loved here, argued here; studied, struggled, thought here. It has been your home for four years. It was not always easy. There were times you doubted your abilities and questioned your worth; times you wanted to be anywhere but here. But you also discovered on this little campus what friendship, at its best, can be. You remember countless conversations stretching from dinner to dawn that made you feel connected and understood, conversations that made you question things. You and your friends talked in dorm rooms, talked outside on the stone benches next to the twin tiger statues. You will always remember the little details of these talks: the gingery flavor of the sangria you were sipping, or the way the breeze swept your friend’s hair over her face, or the angle of the sunlight streaming into your common room at 6am after staying up all night, just talking.
But now it is ending. You are about to graduate. In three weeks, you will no longer belong here. You will no longer be a student. You’ll be… an ordinary citizen? Just some young woman in her twenties? You don’t know yet. Your identity is up for grabs. You could be a career girl, a traveler, a mother. You could bounce around from city to city, lost. Eventually, you will find your place. That thought does not make the uncertainty you hate so much any less terrifying.
You pause and reflect on these four years. What will you miss? The people, the discussions, the plethora of parties and friends, the books, some classes. The strong sense of pride and belonging to your school. You think of the things you are so glad to leave behind. Math. Long hours buried in books in the library. The constant stress, that nagging anxiety at the back of your mind telling you to do this, or you’ll fail. The sense of entitlement some students here have. The rules.
You think of all the people you are leaving behind. Your dear friends, the ones you told everything to. The friends who rubbed your back and stroked your hair as you cried over your broken family, or over a boy who didn’t love you, or because a painful memory half forgotten had resurfaced. The friends you doubled over laughing with, danced with, drank with. Your friends will scatter across the world – San Francisco, Memphis, Thailand, New York, Africa. That easy intimacy you have become so accustomed to will disappear. That makes you sad. You take a moment to acknowledge the feeling. You don’t wish it away, because the sadness means you have had significant relationships worth mourning. That is the nature of things. People come together, bound by time, physical location, and circumstance. And when such things change, people will naturally drift away to new homes.
You feel tired, wistful, nostalgic, excited, scared. You imagine graduation day only three weeks away. Twenty minutes before the ceremony, you will stand in front of your mirror, propped on an old Trader Joe’s box, getting ready one last time. You’ll choose that tube of rosy red lipstick you got from your time abroad in Cape Town. It’s the only lipstick that really suits you, and you are thrilled that although you’ve had it for a year, there is plenty left. You’ll put on that delicate pink chiffon dress and your stappy tan heels, and don your black cap and gown. You’ll stare in the mirror and see a reflection you don’t quite recognize – an almost college graduate, ready to leave the place you’ve called home. You’ll look around the little room you’ve lived in for a year, with its high ceiling and standard issue extra-long twin bed. Boxes will be strewn across it, clothes stuffed into your suitcase. Nearly packed but not quite ready. The cream colored walls will be lonely, all the pictures and birthday cards you pinned in late February tucked away in some box.
You’ll try to hold back your tears. You’ll reach for a tissue when there is a knock at the door. You open it to see your best friend, wearing the same black gown. Her cap will be slightly askew. Shall we? She’ll ask. You’ll smile and nod. Your heels will make emphatic clinking sounds as you walk down the two flights of stairs. The sun will be shining fiercely as you exit your building. Suddenly, you’ll feel a wash of happiness. You’ll think about how much you’ve grown up these past four years, and feel proud. You did it.