What am I supposed to write here? I feel obliged to put forth some sort of thought on this transition: the walking across the stage for the Arts & Sciences recognition ceremony, the procession behind the ArtSci banner in full regalia to a peppy, baroque or perhaps classical air into the quad--and yet, despite feeling like I should feel more, I think I have already felt it. This transition from undergraduate to graduate, student to alumna, has taken the entire semester, if not the entire year.
I went through all the stages of grieving: Denial, with a brief Angry interlude directly following, when graduation seemed aeons away from the present moment and the only thing I was concerned with was finishing my thesis (was I even going to do so?!) and turning in lab reports; Then, Bargaining, where I tried to reason that graduating would mean nothing, that it would be fine, that I would not lose touch with those I care about or that Milwaukee was not so far away or so cold that no one would ever want to visit me; next, Depression, which came in vast, heaving waves to cover me with paralyzing malaise and unsettled ill will, a roller coaster ride of manic depressiveness where the cramming in of last-minute fun took place side by side with a desire to simply be in the presence of my friends, doing what we always do and simply existing; and finally, Acceptance, which came like a gift on the actual day of Commencement, during the ceremony, where instead of crying (as I had mentally prepared myself to do, despite inadvisedly wearing mascara) I found myself enthralled by the speaker, feeling uplifted and carried forward into the future, this time willingly, this time looking the future in the face and seeing what it is I would become, realizing for not the first time but the first full time that I have, to this point, achieved what I set out to do in my undergraduate career. All of this took months, and did not pass in a day; and so, as I thought about what it has meant to finish my degree and to be accepted to medical school and to know that I am leaving one place (no, two places--St. Louis as my new-found home and Missouri as my ancestral one) for a completely new locale--I did not know what to say.
Even the goodbyes, such as they were, felt surreal and fake. A brief hug, a last look at one another, the shrug and the quick upturn of the mouth and the "we'll keep in touch" and "of course I'll visit!" and the wavering suspicion (or fear) that none of us will have time to return to the past to reminisce but must instead move forward to new circles of acquaintances--all of this in the few small instants before the crowds separated everyone, scattering us the way our new lives will do, strangely causing some of us to collide and say goodbye multiple times (I said goodbye twice to Pygeon but it seemed like a waste not to do so and yet also ridiculous, because the other option was to pretend like we hadn't seen one another as we desperately looked for that one last person or group of friends to say goodbye to). I'd like to think that the fakeness of the goodbyes can be attributed to the sincerity of the friendship: that true friends never really say goodbye but only part ways for a while, but I am pragmatic enough to doubt that kind of optimism (even while my optimistic half certainly wishes it were true).
And then, the chore of packing. In a way, packing up and the annoyance of sorting through belongings that have been jumbled together for four years already (always in the same general disarray, carefully preserved from year to year and transferred from desk drawer to desk drawer)--this annoyance makes parting all the easier. When you're grimy and a bit sweaty and tired from sorting through junk that you'll just have to re-sort once you're home, and once you've taken down the posters and the curtains and sold your futon--suddenly the room resembles what it is, a sterile enclosure, one of many nearly identical to it along the hallway, only rented to you for nine months and change. Then, moving out is a blessing, the carrying of boxes and bags and the flinging of them into the back of the car is cathartic, the labor in itself a cleansing rite, the exercise and the strain a physical meditation, a mental separation of past and present that is essentially completed with that last dropping of the key into the little slot, secure in its envelope.
As always, though, there are lingering goodbyes, a last-ditch attempt to see someone before you go away perhaps forever, an almost panicky desperation carefully concealed despite your roughened voice and chirpy optimism.
And then, with a rush, you are away down the parkway toward the highway, and you realize you didn't even turn to look one last time at the sign that says the name of your university or take one last circuit around the campus, because after all of those chores of packing up and goodbye-saying you were simply ready to get on the road because it's a four hour drive for home and you're already stuck in rush-hour weekend traffic.
When you pull into the driveway, and yank the parking break into position, and stumble a bit as your stiff legs swing out of the car, everything is dark and as you walk into the kitchen from the garage you realize that you are home again, but this time it feels stranger than usual and you sort of want a stiff drink but fear that might make you an alcoholic, and besides, your little brother and his friend are there and probably shouldn't be watching you drink (or at the least, shouldn't know where you keep the alcohol). And then you take a shower, and climb into the guest bed which is now pseudo-yours, and lie awake staring at your eyelids and let the pure exhaustion wipe away whatever sentiments you might have about being graduated, because you feel the same way you did two days ago only more fatigued and in a different bed.