Two weeks ago I sat in Lovers & Madmen polishing my creative nonfiction final portfolio as it poured outside. I was miserable. It's not that I disliked my work; in fact, I loved this class. But each letter I typed, like steps down a plank, reminded me I was that much closer to finishing my time at Penn.
Then I received a text message from my dad. He was in Los Angeles for the day on business.
"At the Beverly Hills Hotel. Christian Slater is here….! :-)" (My family loves emoticons. I love celebrity sightings.)
Suddenly, the real world didn't seem so terrible.
On a good year, most students don't want to leave college. The unwillingness to depart is so universal that it has become its own film subgenre. And it's understandable why: It's hammered into us at the threshold of our freshman year that These Are The Best Four Years Of Our Lives.
It's a wonderful thought when you have eight semesters ahead of you. But when they're behind you - well, it can be difficult to find reason for optimism.
And let's face it: This isn't even a good year. Not only are we mired in economic turmoil, The Wall Street Journal kindly pointed out last week that graduates of 2009 will probably live with the disadvantages of this recession for 10-plus years to come.
If you're wondering, that thud was my dreams dropping to the floor.
Despite being possessed by fear that's two parts wanting to be in college forever and one part apocalyptic economy, I can't help but think of a restaurant my family visited in Little Italy in New York City years ago. On its front window was painted its self-deprecating slogan: Better Than Most.
Because for all our complaining, that's sort of what we are. Not necessarily better, but luckier: Luckier Than Most. That's how I feel, at least. Lucky to have been at Penn, lucky to have been surrounded by intelligent and engaged students and lucky to graduate with a degree embossed with our dolphin-laden shield. And really lucky to have had the privilege of this soapbox.
Maybe it's because I matriculated into Penn from a tiny private high school that had no tradition of sending graduates to universities like this one. Maybe it's because I recognize that my hard work wouldn't persevere without many factors beyond my control just happening to work in my favor. Maybe it's because writing this column is making me far too reflective and cheesy for my own good.
Whatever it is, the result is the same: I am so proud to be a Fighting Quaker. I am so grateful for my four years here - even if they were spent avoiding Locust Walk during fliering hours, sometimes playing Taboo instead of going to Smoke's and producing a magazine every week inside a windowless office.
Or really, it's because of those things.
I don't want to leave. But I also don't want to deny the incoming class of 2013 the incredible experiences we've enjoyed. They should have the stomach-flopping fun of accidentally walking across the compass before their first midterm. They should march through campus, cane in hand. They should suffer through finding off-campus housing. They should feel the camaraderie of Rosengarten at 4 a.m.. They should take a class in a field they weren't aware existed and have the world they understood when they sat down warped into something wonderfully unrecognizable.
That's why our bursar was cancelled the same day Penn released spring admission decisions: Our graduation is part of a cycle. Four years ago leaving was our destiny; now it is our legacy. The best thing we can do for future Quakers is clear out and let this campus be theirs. But take comfort. Soon enough they too will have to follow our example.
I'm not ready to leave. I'm not ready to be done. But I like a good challenge. And Penn has pushed me, made me rethink and remap my boundaries. This is one last part of that. It might even be exhilarating.
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