As I write this, there are two more days until the end of the semester (not counting the two exams I have). One day of actual class. This might be the last time I’ll ever be in a purely academic setting, bubble wrapped from the rest of the world. I thought university is supposed to teach variety, but all I got in the past four years is the variety of intellectualism and the misleading notion that everyone is intellectually ambitious.
You will tell me that it’s not, confirming what I already know.
When I was fifteen, I wrote a letter to my twenty-five year-old self. The letter is still sitting in my desk drawer. I wish I can say that I can’t wait to read it, but I can wait. I barely feel like I’m twenty-one, or that I’m in my twenties for that matter. Time moves far too fast for my liking. I feel like I’ve barely lived and I’m already nearly twenty-two! I’m almost too old to participate in the Olympics. Twenty-five can wait.
I imagine you are rolling your eyes.
Since this is supposed to be the end of a chapter, I’ll share some of my goals and resolutions for the future (in no particular order):
- write something everyday
- floss diligently
- read an actual newspaper (as in, don’t get news solely from late night talk shows or social media)
- collect more bottles
- get nice pens and papers
- learn to make tiramisu
- find a pen pal
- travel the world
I’m crossing my fingers that you will have accomplished them and/or are continuing to accomplish them.
By the time you are supposed to read this, you will have been gone from university for ten years, if you haven’t run back to it just to not have to deal with the shittiness of the real world. Maybe you’d rather spend your entire life dedicated to the use of colons in Ulysses rather than face the mediocrity of the outside world. University has taught you to learn, but not to be tolerant (of anti-intellectualism). Maybe being surrounded by academic discourse is the safest way to live in this world.
But I hope not. I hope you haven’t returned to school just because it’s the better of the two evils. If you have returned, I hope it’s because you’ve discovered that you’ve loved it all along. That you can’t imagine a life without research and theses and bibliographies. I also hope you have and will continue to have the courage and resilience that I never quite had to do everything that you want. I hope that your university training has not just been about learning the material, but rather learning to love seeing, hearing, breathing. I don’t want you to have peaked in your twenties.
I want our life to be an upward line until this world can no longer hold us.
Last night I finished my last academic undergrad paper, if not my last academic paper ever. I can’t say I will miss it much. Academic writing has never been my strong suit (how on earth will you teach essay writing?). But I will miss myopic analysis of single sentences, single words, and even single punctuation marks. I will miss finding Easter eggs with fellow students who are just as myopic as I am. I will miss the ability to pump out papers one after the other like a factory worker. The capitalist state for the student is not that of the industry, but of the essay. I will miss calling essays papers (in my experiences thus far, high schools always call them essays). According to the Oxford English Dictionary (our best friend), this sense of “paper” originates in 1652. It’s weird because the word paper seems so unsubstantial—a mere piece of thinly pressed tree pulp—but an academic paper is rarely fewer than eight sheets of paper. I hope you have retained and spread the curiosity about etymologies.
Goodbyes have never been that difficult for me. And right now I’m trying to feel sad. My friends and classmates have been dealing with this “end of an era” in expected manners. But I don’t know why I’m not having panic attacks yet. Maybe it’s because I already get lost in existential crises enough that I’m desensitized to potential triggers. Hopefully you’ve also retained this calm. Hopefully one day you will live in a place where you truly feel like you belong and that it belongs to you, but not so much that you can never say goodbye. Goodbyes are what lead to hellos.
I don’t know, at this very moment, how you will turn out. You may be living the dream (whatever that is), or you may be homeless, or you may not be reading this at all. But I hope wherever you are, whatever you do, you do it with boldness. Your fourth year Medieval Romance professor called your proposed thesis too bold (don’t you ever forget this injustice), but don’t be timid. Be quiet and shy all you like, but don’t be timid. The great thing about being outside of school is that you can experiment without the threat of a low GPA. Neither you nor I will ever know how that original thesis would have turned out. But don’t let you or your life become that thesis; you’ll never know if you’re not bold.
So if you’re still teaching, never criticize your students for their creativity. They may be wrong, but so can you (as you and I are so much of the time). I hope you have made a difference in at least one student’s life. (I hope the blackboard hasn’t gone obsolete.) I hope most of all that you are learning from them.
But if our life is a parabola, don’t blame yourself. It’s a beautiful shape, pregnant with experience and softness and strength. I want you to slide down the curve as gracefully as you can, with as much enthusiasm as you did when you went down your first slide. Your parents won’t be at the end to catch you, but I will.
P.S. I realize that I messed up the x and y axis. This is why I’m a humanities student. You chose wisely.