Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Growing up with a side of nostalgia

OK...so I'm trying to actually blog more than once in a great while but I'm feeling lazy today so I am simply posting something I wrote a while back. I also went to an alumni meet and greet tonight so I was recalling the ole alma mater pretty fondly. The letter in the body of this work was adapted from one I originally gave to my friends right before I graduated. It was sappy, which is something I don't normally do, but it was clear and I was proud of what I had written. My parents also stumbled upon it when I wasn't living at home, but I had carelessly left it in a box of old junk they thought I was planning on tossing. Anyway, my dad convinced me to turn it into an article to send to the alumni magazine or some other UMich publication (guess I just gave away where I went to school), but it's kind of been a work in progress for a while. Like I said, I really worry about sending my stuff out for fear of rejection (even though NOT sending it really isn't doing me any good either). Well finally, I at least sent it to a couple of friends who were (or at least pretended to be) impressed. Whether it actually gets published or not is to be determined still, but at least, in some way, I'm starting to get my writing out there. So almost a full year after graduation, here is a little advice to the class of 2008 --at any school-- and a new alum's point of view:
"I am now convinced that what they say is true, that we do not appreciate the things we have when we actually have them. Most significantly, our youth. Now, I am undeniably not what I would call old, or even a “grown up,” having graduated not even a full year ago. However, I do feel that I did mature slightly in my four years at the University of Michigan – and even more so after moving to Chicago on my own. And maybe –just maybe – that gives me the right to impart a bit of wisdom here. I, for one, know that I did not savor every moment I spent learning in Ann Arbor, both in and out of the classroom. So often, I simply bided my time waiting for the semester to be over. I stared at my watch during rehearsals and meetings. I calculated the hours until the next weekend or break. In my rush (I was never on time), I waved and hurried past even the closest of friends, assuming we could catch up later. I cannot begin to count the weeks through which I simply floated – or, rather, flew. My four years were a blur, and I now wish I hadn’t wished them all away.
However, after graduation, I realized something else. That rushing through our youth, in our impatience to grow up, is a part of growing up itself. If we lived in the moment for our entire lives, we would have no need to look back on a time when everything felt confusing yet anything seemed possible. We wouldn’t need that nostalgia that already washes over me when I hear “Yellow and Blue,” our alma mater. If we fully appreciated what we had – these four (or five, or six, or nine) years – when we had it, we might not miss it so much or recall it so fondly. If we did everything we wanted to and said everything we meant to say during this short period of time, we would not yearn – or wish with all our hearts – that we could go back.
Now that I have left the protection of the Umich bubble, I want to go back, to stop and talk on street corners, to soak up (almost) everything my professors had to say, and to people-watch for hours on the Diag, on those extraordinary eighty-degree March days, knowing that the next day I would be wearing a scarf and mittens again. But I know that I can’t, and that even if I tried, it wouldn’t be the same, because I am not the same, and, year to year, day to day, neither is anyone else. The once-frightened freshman are now the scary seniors, and the formerly intimidating seniors are the rookies in the real world or working in Ann Arbor, still digging around for a little bit of that maize and blue magic.
I am not writing this to encourage you to stop and take in every bit of Ann Arbor possible before it’s gone. Do leave a little something to wish upon, to miss, to regret. Like I said, it’s all a part of growing up and out of the protective shell to which we all grew so accustomed. Nevertheless, I encourage you to slow down and breathe if only for a moment, now, just before you graduate. Listen to your award-winning professors, stand in awe of history on the Union steps, stop in the Diag, and say hello to the friends to whom you will soon bid farewell. And most of all, let the people this great University placed into your life know that they’ve earned a page in your memoir. (We’re all destined to be great, are we not?)
If I had slowed down before graduation and expressed my appreciation for all the people in those four years of my life, I think I would have said something like this:

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the goodness in people. Totally, completely, and utterly overwhelmed. I have no other way to explain myself. Rarely do I find myself choked up and unable to speak – it’s truly a cold day in hell when I stop talking – but lately, I’ve been speechless quite a bit. Each time I’m forced to say goodbye to someone or something, to a face or a place, I have to stop and collect myself. My last paper, I’ll say, my last class at the University of Michigan, my last time on stage, my last walk down State Street, my last game in the Big House. What really kills me about all these lasts, though, is that there are such incredible people tied to each one. Amazing, inspiring professors, peers that always drove me nuts but that I secretly admired, and most importantly, the best friends that I know I will have a hard time living without. Even more intimidating is the prospect of all the firsts that I’m about to encounter. I have to find my first real job, my first place completely on my own, and my first friends who might only know the “adult” me. And I’m not entirely sure I like that idea. In fact, I hate that idea.
I am a firm believer that awkwardness and adversity build character and mold a better, stronger you. Learning how to handle everything thrown your way, you figure out that everything that embarrassed you, upset you, or even destroyed you at the time taught you a lesson. We’ve all heard the clich├ęs – “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger,” “It’s not a mistake if you learn from it.” I completely agree, but I think these adages leave out something vital. And that is that there are people who are with you every step of the way, who see you stumble and even fall, and are still there to yank you back to your feet even when, to you, standing seems impossible. There are those who have seen us at every high and low, have seen tears and giddy excitement. These are the ones who sometimes know us better than we wish they did, and who we honor by calling friends. In my four years in Ann Arbor, I have met so many of these people who completely overwhelm me because of their innate qualities, because of the people they simply cannot help but be. And those that make this kind of impact, whether they know it or not, are the ones that make me wish I could stay forever.

Before college, I was told that in those four short years I would make some of the best friends I would ever have. Now that my time at U of M has come to a close, I actually believe it. Don’t stop moving, but slow it down to a walk in the last months you have. And speak up, or next year you’ll be the one begging the graduating class to say all the things you forgot to."
It's still a work in progress, but then again, so am I.

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