Goodnight stars, goodnight moon
And so here I am, staring out into the sun, and graduation, once a mere spark in the distance, has burned through time and space, becoming a flame too close, too hot.
I have stood before, as all of us have, at particular jumping off places in life – first kisses, puberty, driving, proms, school graduations – but none seems much like the place on which I now stand. In the past, after every milestone I could see another one just off in the distance. And if I turned my shoulder back, I could see my parents, friends, relatives all ready and waiting to lend me a hand, or at least a few dollars. But now I see no more milestones. I’m sure, or at least, I hope, more will come my way – a wedding, perhaps children, mid-life crises – but they are not so particularly ordered and ordained as before. People will tell us, as we march across the Quad, that our futures are bright, and so I wish them to be. But staring into so bright a future seems a bit like staring into the sun: temporarily blinding.
I am not fearful. I have, you have, we all have crawled, walked and run through our collegiate years. We’ve discovered the fun and frustration of communal living, trekked endlessly to Bear’s Den, been tantalized by new members of another (or the same) sex, thrown back drinks in a darkened frat or an apartment basement, glimpsed our own reflection in the toilet bowl. We’ve studied all night for all subjects, from p-chem to Petrarch, played IM football, run marathons, started clubs and washed our own laundry. All this, and still time for more.
The “real world” haunts us incessantly, but why? Why does it cast such a shadow? Have we not learned, intuited, discovered enough about life to be ready? No, we haven’t, but that’s the point. Though seniors in college, we are merely children in life, and this is okay. I yearn to see not just 10, 20 or 30 years of life down the road, but 50, 60. I don’t want to know yet who I finally am; when I am ready to enter whatever afterlife may await me, then I will wish to know who I am. I will turn my shoulder back once again and be able to say, “This was me.” But my sun is still rising, and I will look not back but forward, saying, “This will be me.” I do not know what “this” is, but I know that I am ready to find out.
There are, of course, the true soldiers of the real world that will greet us after graduation: homes, taxes, jobs. I cannot discount them, but I cannot be doomed by them. Somehow, somewhere, everyone must confront these issues, and so will I. They may dictate my existence for a few years, and so it must be. To borrow Emerson: “I run eagerly into this resounding tumult.”
In his novel “Underworld,” Don DeLillo writes, “What a wound to overcome, this passage out of childhood, but a beautiful injury too, pure and unrepeatable.” And so it is: as we turn our tassels, we step forever through the door, but we must not close it. We haven’t been children – in the strict sense of the word – in years, but we nonetheless have been living a collective childhood. For what is childhood but a time begun in innocence, lived through discovery and finished by reflection? Our four years of tumbles, turns and triumphs have shaped us into what we both never wanted and always wanted to be: adults.
We will never live like this again, and that truly saddens me. But it comforts me as well, because I know that who I am to be will always hold some piece of who I used to be, and who I used to be was never just me; it was my friends, my companions. And so to you, all of you, I say good luck but not goodbye, because no matter the distance, we will always have hello.
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