What will you remember most from Senior Week and Commencement Weekend?”
A month after my college graduation, a friend asked me to reflect on my last days as a student. I paced up and down the hallway of my new apartment building, where I lived with new people in a new city, almost 400 miles from the university that had recently given me a degree.
The voice on the other end of the phone went silent, giving me a chance to respond. My mind flashed back to the most meaningful moments of a week that felt simultaneously like yesterday and like years ago.
We were standing by a trash can in a random hallway of a convention center as the frivolity of a college dance ensued around us, but I hardly noticed. I was on a mission to communicate to a friend that I cared about him, as I had been trying to do with various people before graduation sent us down separate paths.
My friend leaned against the wall and looked me in the eye.
“So, what’s up?”
Suddenly, everything that I had planned to say felt stupid. I worried that my expression of thanks would sound silly, saccharine or trite.
“Uh, I just wanted to tell you that I’m glad we became friends. Because, you know, I thought you were going to hate me, but you don’t hate me, so, like, that’s good.”
Just as I was hoping that the ground would open up and swallow me so I could escape the mortification caused by my inarticulate rambling, he replied.
“You know, I don’t think you realize how much it has meant to me to have someone around that I could be real with.”
In that moment, my embarrassment faded away. All I felt was gratitude.
The night before commencement, there were strangers in my house — roommates’ relatives and friends of friends. They lounged in our yard and our living room, laughing and talking, but I just wanted to be alone.
I walked through the back door and directly into my bedroom, where I shut the door tightly, collapsed on my bed and covered my face with my hands.
When my roommate knocked, I sat up straight and tried to speak clearly: “Come in.”
But my voice quivered, and I hadn’t had time to wipe the moisture from the corners of my eyes.
My roommate sat down on the bed and wrapped her arms around me.
I paused, unsure of what to say.
“It’s just a lot to handle,” I said finally. “All of this.”
“I know,” she replied. “It is.”
She stayed by my side as I finally confronted the emotional tidal wave that the last week had been. And, for the first time since I was a little kid, I let someone fully take care of me.
The commencement ceremonies came and went, and most of my graduating class gathered on the university’s main quad that night to celebrate. I was standing with my former hallmates when a friend tapped me on the shoulder.
I turned around, and he drew me into a hug. “I love you,” I said, without thinking.
The words flooded out of my mouth — for once, uninhibited by self-censorship or doubt. My breath caught in my throat as I immediately panicked that my intention would be misjudged and that I had created an immensely uncomfortable moment.
Luckily, it wasn’t, and I hadn’t.
My friend, understanding what I had meant, simply pulled me in tighter.
My thoughts sprung back to the present, where my friend on the phone was waiting for me to respond to his question.
“What will you remember most from Senior Week and Commencement Weekend?”
All of the scenes that had run through my head intertwined and reminded me of the openness that I had experienced during my last few days of college.
“I’ll remember the moments of vulnerability,” I told my friend. “At the end of the day, I think that’s what will stick with me.”
In packing my bags and saying my goodbyes, I learned what endings do.
They challenge you. They change you. They crack you open and tear down your walls, and they dare you not to resist.
In the weeks, months and years that lie ahead, there will be many more endings. I will incoherently try to express gratitude several more times. I will face moments of emotional turmoil. I will occasionally spill my thoughts and feelings with reckless abandon.
I will probably be asked again someday about what I’ll remember from a particular period in my life. To be honest, I’m not sure that my answer will be much different.
More than anything, I’ll hold onto the times when I and the people around me were candid and unguarded in ways that we usually were not.
When an experience fades into the rearview mirror, I think those are the moments we carry with us.
Marisa Iati is a reporting intern at the Post-Gazette this summer. She recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a major in American Studies and a minor in journalism, ethics and democracy (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1891 or on Twitter @marisa_iati).