Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Column: The final chapter of college comes with an empty finality

January 27, 2021
A moment from the Fall 2019 Commencement ceremony at Breslin Center on Dec. 14, 2019.
A moment from the Fall 2019 Commencement ceremony at Breslin Center on Dec. 14, 2019. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

I sat at my kitchen table debating how I wanted to start this column.

I'm one of the lucky people in this world.

I have had employment, a roof over my head and haven't lost a family member or loved one to the COVID-19 virus that has killed over 400,000 in the United States.

This past year has broken many things we always had intact. It has tested us as a nation and even as a human race. That's heavy. So here's a disclaimer because what I talk about here doesn't carry that weight and gravity in our lives. 

I'm about to finally leave the place that has molded me into the man, student and soon-to-be professional journalist that I hope to become. 

It isn't filled with bar nights, packed parties, final spring breaks and the usual senior year experience. 

For good reason, safety is important and I often hold on to hope that this pandemic soon ends with the introduction of vaccines fighting it. 

When I walked into IM Sports East this morning with a mask on to shoot hoops alone, I remembered the first time four years ago I entered the same building. 

It was packed. This time, I was the only person in the gym. Like many things we do now, I did it alone. 

That's our new reality. 

We all try our best to enjoy what time we have left in this phase of our lives before we have to start thinking about life after college. I don't know if most people in my class have jobs lined up. I would bet that few do.

That's OK.

We all have learned more about ourselves and others over this time, I think. For better or worse, that's life. 

Now, life at MSU seems empty. The campus is near empty. The sidewalks once filled with young adults rushing to class they didn’t want to attend replaced with icy winds and leaves.

The emptiness of online class with people you likely will never meet in person and the inability to walk across the stage with your diploma. That moment is something I probably will regret not getting because when I saw my oldest sister become the first one in my immediate family to graduate from college, I realized what I had to do someday too.

How lucky am I? I have spoken many things in my life into existence, with this being the latest one. I lived in Hubbard Hall — yeah, I'm lucky for that one.

But sometimes it feels like all my luck ran out last spring. Finally. 

Online school and I, to say the least, do not get along. I am struggling more than I have academically for many reasons with online school compounding everything else.

I clung to the time before that seems so far away: the late nights in our dorms as a freshman and trips to The Riv and Dublin Square with the group of friends we became adults with.

Even if you still have no idea what you are doing as May 2021's bells toll to beckon us into adulthood, you can at least reflect on the good old days.

Now, I've begun to let that go as I enter the next stage of my life that hopefully will be spent in a more normal time than this. 

Those memories are ones I will always cherish. It's a simpler stage of life. It's a necessary sacrifice, not getting what seniors before me and others did, to someday get back to normal life. 

That's important. 

But when I think about senior year, it's difficult to recall what might stick out the most. My roommates, friends and I have tried to make the most of this. It works well at times.

I will remember finally completing my degree, something many people I grew up around never did. I'm on the track I knew I wanted to be on as a 10-year-old when I decided that was where I would someday be. 

I will remember smoking cigars, gambling, the Browns going 11-5 to make the playoffs and getting to go one last round in East Lansing. 

Oh yeah, and Michigan State somehow beating Michigan on the road with a quarterback that goes to Northern Illinois now. Can't forget that one.

Others might say different. That's OK too. This is the strangest and most difficult time for many people in our country and likely that my generation will ever witness. 

Again, my experiences can’t compare to what has gone on around this nation. 

I stood, this senior year, for the first time at a protest. 

I got sick, didn't see my family for the first time on Thanksgiving in my life.

For as much emptiness as there is around us in East Lansing, I found myself filling the void with rebuilt friendships, family relationships and experiences I never had before.

In the loneliness of some of these times, we find ways to fill it with something. That's human nature. But we probably all still have regrets, that happens in college. 

I know I do. 

I don't speak for all seniors. But what will you remember about this last year in college?

This column is part of the 'We Can't Forget' print issue. Read the entire issue here. 

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