Dear graduating students (and all those who began this experience with us, and all those who embody the experience of this letter),
First of all, congratulations. We made it. Whether you’re still finishing up multiple theses and prepping for honors exams, or whether your work is essentially finished and you’re like “what do I do until senior week starts,” the end is in sight. I’m proud of us. It’s taken more than I can describe to get to this point.
During my first year, I was taking the shuttle back to ML, and I heard someone say this quote that has stuck with me for three and a half years: “the difference between a freshman and a senior at this school is like the difference between an orange and a grapefruit: one is slightly bigger and significantly more bitter.” And, unknown stranger, maybe you’re right.
We carry so much within us. This year, I’ve been overcome by the depth of my classmates’ experiences. We got here by leaving it all in what we do, or at least I did. And I’ve seen many of us at various points this year, myself included, completely drained. We spent it all. We gave all we had, and if you didn’t, I’m proud of you for taking care of yourself. It’s a skill I’m learning myself, and I’m getting better at it; but it kinda sucks, because from what I can see, this is what Swatties do: burn ourselves out. Even though I wish we wouldn’t do that to ourselves, I want to honor what we’ve done with it. We have rebuilt our school, whether it’s our clubs, our TA positions, our athletics teams, our dorm lives, our social scene, our campus jobs, or, in a lot of cases, ourselves. And sometimes we failed. But a lot of times, we did a good job. We put in a lot of effort to rebuild our spaces better, and though there’s still work to do, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. Even if at the same time I’m telling everyone I see to stop whatever it is they’re doing and go to bed. After all that we went through, we were asked to pick ourselves up off the ground and lend a hand to those younger than us. And we did because it was important. But we’re also tired. And that’s more than valid. (And for the younger people that are tired, that’s more than valid too.)
I also want to honor the classes of 2020 and 2021 for what they taught us about making the best of things. I’ve drawn on memories of people I remembered fondly from those classes more times than I can count regarding how best to handle living here under the circumstances that no one wants to talk about. But I want to talk about it because it still affects us. I am fundamentally different because of COVID. I am both more and less terrified of the future because of it. My mental health issues appear in different forms because of it. I wish I could say I came out stronger, but I’m not sure if that’s true. And I’m not even sure if that’s the goal. One thing I can say for certain is I’ve learned more patience and empathy for myself and others. Thank you to all those who helped teach me that.
I wish I could talk about more than the COVID experience, though sophomore fall feels like ten years ago. So here’s some fun (and less fun) reminiscences from our years here that some of us experienced, just for old time’s sake (and my memory’s not so great, so maybe I made some of them up?). Though I didn’t do all of these, I’ve lived them through y’all. And that’s pretty cool.
we sat on the grass outside Sharples and got free food with Jim Bock ’90
we climbed over each other to get to our seats at dinner
we protested fraternity life, and we won
we fought for what we cared about
we shouted into the void
we swang (what’s this word?) on the magnolia swing
we found out the cherry border existed this year
we went abroad senior spring
we got COVID
we participated in discussion after discussion about campus improvement
we saw Reneé Elise Goldberry live
we got excited about Doja Cat as a potential Worthstock performer
we got pneumonia
we sat around ML doing physics past midnight, or water-coloring at 5 a.m.
we played pool (some better than others)
we went out to parties, and we stayed in
we got a free lunch at the Inn
we came out for the first time on the first day of orientation
we tried out new pronouns
we missed our friends who transferred (but gained new ones who came here)
we used oscilloscopes in Hicks
we saw our first snow
we lived in the basement of Willets
we talked about the best places to cry on campus
we made dozens of playlists
we watched our friend’s performances and even joined them in a couple
we looked forward to going up into the bell tower for four years straight
we learned to love a little deeper, work a little harder, carry on a little longer, find a little more bravery within ourselves, and now, well, now we learn to rest…
So maybe it’s just me. But I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one feeling a range of emotions for which the term bittersweet doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. And I just wanted to say that if you’re hurting and healing and celebrating and proud and still working and wondering how you made it here, I see you. And you’re not alone.