January 1, 2011
Back when I was touring colleges, I always made sure to pick up a copy of the school’s newspaper. It always seemed like a reasonable barometer of what was important to the campus and how engaged students were in what was going on around them, the latter being very high on my college checklist. When a couple of the schools had e-mail subscriptions for their newspapers, I happily supplied my Gmail address and kept apprised of campus news at all of my prospective schools. Since I still use the same account, I periodically get updates from these colleges, and I almost always read them. I think it’s a way to sate my curiosity about my counterfactual history; find out the person I’d be today and what I’d be thinking about if I’d bought a different hoodie in May of ’07.
So when I got a news digest from the Swarthmore Phoenix not too long ago, I couldn’t just delete it. Swarthmore was towards the very top of my list, and I am fairly confident I would have matriculated if it wasn’t for the eleventh-hour Cornell visit that made me fall in love with this place. Swarthmore had a lot of what I wanted in a campus: a small community, rigorous academics, beautiful surroundings, reasonable distance from home. In the end, it turned out a big university was the right place for me, because I needed a lot of room to explore.
I honestly don’t think back on the decision too much, but I was still surprised and touched to find a lot of common ground with a Swarthmore senior on the opinion page. Eva McKend’s opinion piece on life as a senior at my would-be university captured so many of my own feelings at the beginning of my last semester at Cornell. Though we attend very different institutions, it seems like McKend and I reached the same kind of conclusions about our finite undergraduate lives. Our successes and shortcomings as undergrads seem so small in comparison to the quote-unquote real world, where our minor victories won’t be feted and our major mistakes easily forgiven.
I wouldn’t say I’m quite as terrified about leaving school — and I haven’t seen any destroyed chairs at Cornell — but I do sometimes worry that the seamless transition to real life I’ve envisioned is just a fantasy. I wonder how well I’m going to adjust to working in a building where I don’t know everyone and there aren’t photos of me on the brochures. I am hopeful that I can find a fulfilling job and strong friendships in my next chapter, but I know it’s going to be nothing like my years at Cornell. I’ve understood that my college years are precious and fleeting for a while, and I take comfort in knowing that I’ve gotten so much out of them. I think that’s where I find peace in graduating, and I hope McKend can do the same.