Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Column: With just a few weeks left, I reflect on 4 years

April 20, 2021
A graduation cap and gown photographed on April 22, 2020.
A graduation cap and gown photographed on April 22, 2020. —
Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

Joe Dandron is a graduating senior and sports editor at The State News. He's also a first-generation college graduate. 

I came back to where all of this began when I decided I could finally collect my thoughts. 

I sat at Akers Hall, the place where I ate my first meal on campus, next door to the dorm (yep, Hubbard Hall) that I met my eventual roommate, college best friends and direction in not just this ever-so-massive place but also my life. 

It was there, at the spot I sat — with rain clouds rolling in over East Neighborhood — alone. Armchairs and lofted stools surround pool tables with no one around them, a cafeteria is sparse when it was once full of vibrant noise, workers and students, and a courtyard remains empty. No one walked by as I sat because things are different now — things are changing, the flowers are blooming once again …

And I'm graduating. 

Graduating college.

How do you collect your thoughts about four years in just one column? 

The thought of that bounces around in my aching, hungover head as I try to gather up what's left of my college experience and feel like I'm trying to do everything I can to say goodbye, hello and thank you to my friends, professors and the buildings that raised me. I get a pit in my stomach sometimes when I think about graduating because the thing that has remained so constant in my life — Through my parents' divorce, through jobs and internships and classes I nearly failed — is this place, community and university. 

When I came to MSU I thought that I would just do my time, graduate and find a job as maybe a teacher or work in communications. I always wanted to be a sports writer, author of a book and maybe work in radio or television. Never did I think that my time in college would go quite like this. 

When I came from my tiny hometown of Montague, Michigan, let’s just say I didn't quite think I would be flying to New York City during my spring break and working alongside the people that inspired me to chase my dream of being a reporter. I got to see social justice protests up close and personal led by people my age doing something I couldn't even fathom for a cause I backed with my journalistic heart and soul as not only a reporter but a person. I was in the front seat for some crazy moments in my university's history and even got to see a football season in a stadium that was completely empty. 

I'm getting nostalgic, talking about my job and being cliche. I know. Why do you think I chose to become a writer? 

But as a I turn through the pages of my four years here, I remember each moment so vividly. My first college party, moving into my first apartment, my first time being away from my family for more than a few weeks and then subsequently supporting myself over the last three years. When my parents pulled away in their black Chrysler Town & Country minivan, it felt like just yesterday I turned around to see an empty space occupied where they sat and my mother cried about me going away to school.

It's surreal, to think that in a blink of an eye that all the steps across campus, all the time spent at The Riv, Dublin Square and FieldHouse watching basketball, all the time spent going to sporting events and working nights for student media and balancing two jobs ... is all coming to an end. 

With every sip of a beer and cup of coffee I scramble to pack up this life I've made here.

That's scary, but it's also OK.

I walk on campus and stroll by the Rock on Farm Lane often nowadays and hope that another 18-year-old kid, like me, is figuring it out just as fast as we all have to — even if we don't have it all figured out yet. That's part of life and leaving for college: Figuring things out at our own pace. When I left I had one goal — just make sure you finish what you started. 

joedandron4-12-21-4

Now I'm here, I'm scared and I'm excited about the future and life beyond this little square of land that has a lot of green.

I'm at the finish line with thousands of other seniors whose time is coming to an end. I don't speak for all of us, but I know I tried to make the most of all this time and all the opportunities I've had in college, that college has given to me. 

That's all we can do.

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I'm thankful for my professors, co-workers, colleagues, alumni and the East Lansing community. People always told me that life and work is about the people you go through it with. They are right.

It's time to move forward. The class of 2020 didn't get a fraction of what we have lucked out with during a pandemic. I remember my friends who graduated last fall and how life shifted so dramatically that it fractured what we see as normal. They were forced far away from each other to wait for a vaccine and regulations that could allow a sliver of standard life back into the picture. 

Now, it's the class of 2021's turn. We are entering a more stable job market in a slightly more stable world. Isn't that something we should consider ourselves lucky for? It's not perfect, but that's just fine. 

I struggled with that for a time but now I've forced myself to see how lucky I was to become a graduate of this school. I'm one of two or three kids from my hometown here. No one else in my family ever came here.

Thanks, Michigan State University, for everything these last four years.

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