As I’ve written this blog over the course of the year, I’ve done my best to be honest about my experience — as a Carleton student, as an English student, as a fifth-year student. Sometimes that honesty has simply been to represent various moments as truthfully as I could. My mother can probably attest that school is, and always has been, a stressful experience for me. I didn’t hide that. But here’s the thing: school – learning, reading, writing, discussing — has also always been one of the greatest (in all meanings of the word) aspects of my life. I love it, and, when I’m not stressed, I miss it.
Graduation has been on my mind a lot this year, perhaps too much, because it means change; it means, eventually, no school. It means I need to define myself by something else. I wonder if that fear (yes, fear) has tinged my writing, making things out to be worse than they are; I wonder if I’ve shown too much of the uncertainty and doubt, and not enough of the good.
This is not a retraction. As I said, I’ve been honest. I stand by the experience of sometimes crippling anxiety that comes with life, and with this time of life. But this is an amendment: it’s been wonderful, too.
I’m not sure I understood what was really happening to me — what it really meant to me to be in university — until my third year, when I received a book for Christmas: The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan. Keegan died in 2012, five days after she graduated from Yale, and The Opposite of Loneliness is a book of her essays and short stories, published posthumously. The titular essay, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” written the day before her commencement ceremony, describes her experience at university, which she characterizes with this feeling: the opposite of loneliness. Read this essay. It is beautiful. It captures the strange connectedness you feel when you’re in school, the affinity you have with people you don’t even know, because of your shared experience — and it captures the fear of losing that.
This is one of the first times in my life I’m moving on from something I am afraid to lose.
As much as I feel that I will be nothing — vaporous, unanchored — without school, I know that isn’t entirely true, for the simple fact that the benefits I’ve received from coming here to university haven’t been solely institutional. It’s not the routine — the periodic essay-writing, note-taking, library-book-returning grind — that defines me here. It is the people, the learning, the opportunity I have had to grow, change, discover, read, express — to feel not lonely.
I am afraid to lose: the inspiring and talented writing community I have found through the English Lit Society, the loose comradery of making small talk before a lecture, the constancy of quietly working in the same spot on campus (approximately every day for four years) and feeling at home there. These are the good things.
I am grateful for the sentiment and poignancy of a final lecture, for the collection of books I have amassed (which still spills off my shelves, and soon, I guess, will be stored in boxes as I move back home), for the friends I made and the things I wrote. These are the things I am leaving, the things I hope you have had and will have. These are the things that have changed me in the best way.
One more: I am grateful for the invitation I received in September to blog my year, which has allowed me to self-indulgently self-reflect on a public scale — but also to express and share the storm-cloud of emotions stirred up by my final year.
So, thank you.