I got on Timehop this morning and it reminded me that a year ago today, I was driving south to Farmville to begin my senior year. There was no need for me to read what was on my social media because I can remember this day quite clearly.
I remember the weeks before, not wanting to return to school.
I remember stopping an hour away just to catch my breath.
I remember breaking down in tears as I turned left onto Third Street.
I remember walking through the front door of my friend’s townhouse, going straight into a panic attack as he hugged me hello.
The second my senior year started, I was already emotionally exhausted. I was returning to college not happy in my major, unsure of what step I would want to take post-graduation, very confused and surrounded by unknowns. Everywhere I went, everyone I talked to, told me time and time again to make the most of my senior year because it would be over before I knew it. But – at the beginning of that year, I wanted it to be over before it even started.
I could say spoiler alert, but I’m sure you all know that my senior year turned out to be an incredible year. My last year at my favorite university was full of a new program of study, full of new lives and people who brought new smiles to my face. I learned more about myself, my heart, and about my walk of life this last year than I had the first 21 years of my life. While my senior year was a difficult year, I have never been more thankful for a period of 12 months than I am for this last one.
So, if I am so thankful for my senior year, why I am glad I’m not returning?
Because it’s not my place anymore. It is not mine to return to, it is not mine to attend, it is not mine to be changed by any longer.
Longwood is an incredible place that changed my life many times over. I am not who I was when I moved into that little freshman dorm in August 2012, not even close. I am nowhere near that person anymore and that is a beautiful thing. That is what college is. College changes your life, changes you. College is not supposed to be a time of simply taking tests and taking advantage of free food. College is not a pause in your life where you can do what you want without consequences. College is quite the opposite – it is four (maybe more, and that’s okay) years of growth and development and maturity. You are not supposed to leave your university the same way you came in, you are supposed to leave better.
Am I saying graduation brings lifelong clarity and pure happiness? As much as I wish I could say “yes,” the answer to that is no. The day I found my diploma on my front porch in June was not the day when I magically became wiser. I am still lost, confused, and terrified of all the unknowns that are headed my way. As much as I wish I could just go back to college because it’s what is familiar, and it is what I know – it is not for me. Not anymore. The day the class of 2020 moved their Sterilite bins and their little refrigerators into their dorm rooms, it became theirs and not mine.
Me going back now would be silly. It would be me grasping onto something that meant so much to be, but is clearly in my past. It would be me refusing to accept that what is coming next in my life is what my college experience was leading towards. It would be me saying that college didn’t do what it did – and that is change me.
College isn’t forever. Do I wish the surprise knocks on my door from my friends and the impromptu dance parties would be forever? Yes. Do I wish life was full of secret societies and buckets full of paint and wacky traditions that create a community? Yes. But that’s the beauty of college. It isn’t forever, it isn’t like life. It’s okay to spend your college days sleeping late and sitting on porches and swiping the same card day in and day out to eat cereal and soggy french fries in the Dining Hall. I may have spent today sleeping late and eating cereal in the kitchen of my parents’ house, but I know that my life goes so much farther than this.
Just a year ago, I wasn’t ready to be back at school, but that’s where I was supposed to be. My time at that wonderful place was far from over – I still had so many people to meet, so many lessons to be learned, so many papers to write and boats to canoe in. If I wouldn’t have gone back when I did, I would have missed out on experiences that led me to where I am now. And today, as much as my heart longs for the most beautiful place in the world, that is not where I am supposed to be.
I got my share of dorm life, of library tables and porches and Uptown sandwiches and stealing bricks and Tuesday night meetings and cookies on the living room floor and early mornings making pancakes for the boys. I got my fill of wandering campus in the sunshine and climbing the side of bridges and driving across town with my best friends in the car seats next to me. I got my chance to take classes that opened my eyes to things I never could have imagined before and to join organizations that led me to my passions and my best friends. I got all the paint thrown on me and all the droppings passed down and all the decorations upon my convocation cap that I deserved. But none of it is mine to experience anymore. It is mine to remember, yes, but not mine to live.
We struggle with saying goodbye to college because we fear that something so great won’t happen twice. Yes, the beauty of college will not come again. But the greatness and beauty of life? There’s still so much of it left for me to live. And if I went back to college, now that just wouldn’t be very fair to my future, now would it?