Yet another email with the subject-title "Graduation" reminds me of a day that will bring both smiles and tears. These emails, announcements and commencement-themed parties only force me further in denial that I will be leaving Nashville in a mere four weeks.
My mind spins back to three years ago; I am standing outside of Stambaugh dormitory on the new all-freshman Commons campus and wondering how I would meet friends on such a huge, unfamiliar campus. Fighting weekly homesickness and struggling with challenging courses eventually both strengthened my confidence and also compelled me to rely on others for support, guidance and even criticism. What once seemed un-navigable became familiar and the courses that once seemed impossible became stimulating and exciting.
Now, as time in Nashville slips away from me, I'm beginning to face the truth: graduating and moving away from a college-town is much different from graduating high school and moving away from a hometown.
When I left my small school and home in Lakeland, Florida, I left with the knowledge that I would be coming back for Fall Break, Thanksgiving Break, Christmas Break and Spring Break, and that I would always be able to freely come home to see family and friends. However, when I leave Vanderbilt this May, I do not leave with the same comfort. I do not know exactly when I'll be back or if I will see some of my dearest friends altogether again. Rather, I leave with the knowledge that I have met some of the best people I know so far, including both professors and peers, and that I have an education that is not only applicable to the real world but also one for which I worked hard to earn.
College also brings people closer together than high school does. While in high school, I would see friends at school, at swim team practices and possibly on the weekends if our schedules permitted, but it was my family I would come home to each evening to discuss the day's events, eat dinner and relax before saying our prayers and calling it a night.
College reverses the friend/family dichotomy to an extent. In college, friends become a kind of family unit. We live together, work together, eat together, laugh together, go to church together and cry together. And I could not be prouder, or happier, to call Vanderbilt my family.
For all college seniors, I encourage you to create a bucket list if you have not already. These next few weeks are the last we have in this phase of our lives. Reliving college traditions with the people who made college not only enjoyable, but unforgettable, one more time before throwing the cap up in the air may help alleviate the process of letting go.
As for rising college students, embrace your new family. New opportunities run rampant, yet are sometimes hidden in the midst of our fears of rejection, among other insecurities. Be open to new experiences, fresh faces and chances to learn more about yourself and the world.
In the meantime, seniors, here are a few ideas to enhance your bucket lists.
TO-DO BEFORE GRADUATION
1. Reconnect with the people who made freshman year slightly less scary
2. Plan a road-trip with your three closest friends
3. Go to all of your favorite restaurants (as much as possible)
4. Try out a few new restaurants, time permitting
5. Print pictures posted on Facebook and create a scrapbook or photo album
6. Plan with friends to return for Homecoming in the fall
7. Create a bucket list to pass down to another younger student
Regardless of what may come post-graduation, I will leave Nashville knowing that I will always be cheering for the 'Dores and bleeding black and gold. The only real difference is that in the future, I will join other alumni, cheering from the other side of the line.