I went back to my college today to talk to soon-to-be graduates and a wave of nostalgia slammed into my chest. Looking at the main entrance where, eleven years ago, I stood for the first time, entranced by the possibilities it represented, I smiled a little. I thought of that 18-year-old walking through those doors for the first time, her backpack strapped securely in place with at least 10 highlighters inside, ready to take on her first college class and start the path to her life.
Walking through campus today as a grown woman, memories came flooding back. Good memories, hard memories, and memories we made together.
Even though I’m happy where I am in life, it made me a little sad to think those days are long gone and life has moved on.
It made me sad that all those moments slipped away so fast.
It made me sad that I didn’t even realize what I’d be missing.
It’s been seven years since we took that graduation day picture in front of the main entrance, two twenty-somethings ready to take on the world. We’d met during the formative years of our lives, two small-town girls who happened to sit near each other in our first college class. We grew inseparable over laughter and stories about boys, over classes that put us to sleep and classes that made us want to cry.
For four years, we laughed, cried, and trudged through the exhaustion that is college life.
At the time, all we could think about was getting out and moving on. We talked about dreams and how we couldn’t wait to start life. Those four years seemed like a stopping point or like a purgatory before we could get to the real parts of life, the good parts.
Everyone told us college goes fast and we’d miss it, but we didn’t listen. We were in such a hurry to grow up and move on. We complained and moaned and whined about our exhaustion. We couldn’t wait to take the last exams, write the last papers, and say goodbye to those years.
Now those inside jokes we made and those moments we had are faded memories. We’ve grown up. We’ve traded our weekly frozen mocha runs for the doldrums of adult life. We traded meticulous study sessions of characters we’ve long forgotten for 40-hour work weeks, bills, and grocery shopping.
We still talk, and we still share our laughs. But the laughs are fewer and farther between because we’re busy now, busier than we ever thought was possible during our college years. We’re busy living life, and we don’t have time to laugh about smoothies or go on crazy field trips or make up ridiculous dances for a project.
Standing there today where we used to walk to get snacks and talk about tomorrow, I wish we’d have held those moments a little tighter, grasped the moments a little harder. I wish we hadn’t let go so easily. I wish I’d known when we said goodbye on graduation day, we’d miss that time more than words could explain. I wish we’d have taken a little longer to soak it all in.
I wish we’d have realized that those days of dancing with clay in the front lawn with our crazy pottery teacher or getting locked in a bathroom at a convent were days we’d talk about forever. I wish we’d known the time we felt rebellious for swiping a salt shaker from the cafeteria for dorm room mashed potatoes would be something we’d laugh about later. I wish we’d known that those moments of laughing until we cried on our crazy field trips would be things that would make us smile and miss who we used to be.
I wish we’d have known it would all go too fast, and those moments were good moments to cling to, even if they were in the midst of sleep deprivation and uncertainty.
But we didn’t know. How could we have known?
They weren’t great years because of a lack of responsibility or because of an excess of freedom. They were the best years because they were the years of dreams, the years when life had so much potential and yet such simplicity, too. They were the years that we bonded over crazy hopes and uncertainties for the future. They were the years we decided who we wanted to be—and none of it felt out of reach. Reality hadn’t tainted our perfect views, and working hard made everything feel within reach. We felt like the world could be ours, and we were energized by that thought.
So today, standing on campus, I took a picture to remember. I took a picture in honor of all the memories we made, so that I had something tangible to attach to those moments.
It took a picture to remember, but maybe I didn’t need to. We didn’t hold those moments tightly when they were happening because we didn’t know they would be important. We didn’t know they would shape us and move us into the adults we became.
But now we know. Now we hold those moments tightly and appreciate a friendship, a segment of life, and the part of our journey that turned out to be more than just exhaustion and cramming for tests.
It turned out to be the foundation for who we would become and for the good moments we will laugh about for years to come.
Lindsay Detwiler is a high school English teacher and contemporary romance author. To learn more about her latest work, visit her blog at www.lindsaydetwiler.com.