The Beginning, The Middle, The End
To the graduates: On the night before my college graduation, I had a terrible stomachache.
My best friends and I went for a ceremonial last scoop at our favorite ice cream place, a place where I should have had a loyalty card or something by that point, and I could barely take a bite. My insides were roiling (and I promise, it wasn't a hangover; by then I knew the difference). I just felt sick and shaky and any other night, it would have put me right to bed.
But it was the last night of college. This was FOMO on so many steroids that its identity was totally new. I had 24 measly hours left at my favorite place on the planet. It was senior tradition that nobody sleep this night. This was a night for togetherness, for last chances, for a bittersweet party. I wasn't going to spend it asleep, but I couldn't spend it in pain.
So as the festivities were about to begin, I took a walk. I quietly excused myself from my roommates, laughing on the megabed of mattresses we'd dragged to the common room, and I took a walk. I walked around the labyrinth path that had become my spot for reflection over four years, particularly senior year. I put my headphones in and listened to the music that had always tugged my heartstrings. I walked the winding path and let my rhythm try to calm my stomach.
I walked a few steps with whoever crossed my mind. Best friends, roommates, teammates. Professors and mentors. Ex-boyfriends and high-school friends. Family. I think my grandmother came down from heaven just to land in the labyrinth for a moment that night. When I thought of them all, I felt so very viscerally that they were there with me, Harry Potter/Resurrection Stone-style. Like they were accompanying me and leading me away from pain.
Suddenly, I was crying like I had been broken open.
It was cool and misty and there was nobody around to hear me. I sat in the center of the labyrinth and I breathed deep from the center of me until the tears ran dry. I have always believed I am the sum total of everyone I know, and in that moment, as things were beginning and in the middle and ending, I felt all those people behind me, with me, sending me off.
I stood up, wiped my tears, and left the labyrinth for the last time as an undergrad. And my stomach didn't hurt anymore.
The rest of the night passed in a blur. I went back to that megabed of mattresses and laughed with my very best people. I sat on curbs with lifelong friends and talked about how we got there. I danced on tables. I sang until my voice went hoarse and said "I love you" to everyone I'd ever wanted to say it to. I intended to take a 2am nap and didn't. The sky lightened before I was ready. In the morning, as I numbly shrugged into a heavy black robe, my head pounded and no amount of bagels and ice coffee could save me.
I didn't regret a thing. I would do it again.
I don't need to tell this story. Graduates, you will write—or have written—your own.
It has been precisely 365 days since my own graduation, and I'm still carrying the details of that final night, sharp and stark against my tapestry of details from four years at Boston College. Your details will be different and carry their own meanings and messages. But maybe yours, too, will contain how it felt to live this one night so freely, with joy, with and because of people that love you, knowing things won't always be so beautiful or hurt so much.
Billy Collins, in his poem Aristotle, writes three stanzas about the beginning, the middle, and the end. One line that has always stuck with me in that beautiful work is from the "beginning" stanza: "This is your first night with her, your first night without her." There are beginnings when things begin, and beginnings in the sticky middle, and beginnings when things end. Every stage can circle back to relationships, to the ones you spend the nights—or days, minutes, classes, campus—with.
What are you beginning? What are you in the middle of? What's ending? And whom have you loved?
Find the beginnings, middles, and endings in everything it feels like you're leaving behind. Think of the people who saw, and are seeing, you through. There will be new beginnings and middles and endings in every scary, uncertain, challenging, amazing adventure ahead.
To the graduates: This might be hard, "this" being graduation and saying goodbye and life after college and life at all. But it's beginning. And it's happening. And it's ending. And you are loved.
Go forth and shine.
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