The Beginning of the End
I am still here. Though I entered Oberlin with an expected graduation date of May 2016, my taking a semester off has delayed that until this upcoming semester. This reality took me a long time to accept and I have a lot of feelings about what "not graduating on time" means for me. On the one hand, some of my favorite humans at this institution took paths that deviated from the 4-year norm. On the other, I feel a crushing disappointment in myself from internalized ideas of success and 'making it.' I feel like I've let my family down, no matter how many times they reassure me they are proud that I am graduating. I feel left behind watching my peers go off to Tucson, Miami, Chicago, Boston and hundreds of other places. It's as if they've jumped ship with wings and are off to explore and create in this world--and I am still onboard, sailing through familiar waters.
Another thing on my mind is what a privilege remaining in Oberlin is for another semester. As I watch friends make first loan payments and struggle to find employment and housing, I'm scrolling the Course Catalog deciding what my ideal last college schedule will be. Staying offers me a lot of opportunities. It's extended time to live cheaply as a student with Financial Aid covering (most of) my expenses. I get to have another four months of unlimited access to this institution's resources--educational, financial, and otherwise. I'm spending my last semester pursuing a capstone I am passionate about; being encouraged by multiple advisors and mentors to go after what it is I dream of, and am scared of but feel propelled to get done. Having this 'extra' semester feels like I get to do research not in a frenzy but in an intentional, meaningful manner that will allow both me and my community partners to get the most out of working together. It feels daunting to be conducting research, but it also feels really good. Like this is what I came to college to push myself to do in the first place.
Not having graduated also comes with an intense feeling of being stuck in the in-between. In terms of time, I feel incredibly worried about the future, but also scared and nostalgic about leaving the past I've built here. In regards to place, half the time my heart and visions have already moved to Boston, and the other half is spent savoring Oberlin and my last chances to make memories here. At 21, I feel so blessed to have my life ahead of me, and at the same time I'm overwhelmed with how old I've become--the maturity of the decisions I am making in my life, and watching doors of possibility close behind me as I exit my adolescence. I constantly feel that I am two things at once--a full-time student and an almost graduate; a child who still worries if they're doing their taxes right, and an adult looking for a full-time job with benefits; a resident of Oberlin invested in this place and its people, and a flighty twenty-something with an insatiable itch to move to a coastal city; I am still my parents' child and yet for the first time, the very first time, I must prepare to make my own way in this world. How can I accomplish anything if I have to be all these things at once?
It is very lonely to think that the Class of 2016 has left and started their adult lives while I am still here, preparing for one last intense semester of academia. 2016 folks gave me such a sense of security, of belonging. They were the people who watched me grow, changed with me, radicalized me, and loved me in this strange journey of becoming. Because I am pretty introverted, I haven't put in the time or energy to know that many people in years below me, and now it feels as though I am the sole possessor of a whole legacy of an Oberlin generation that is now entirely gone, and the personality of this campus is being rewritten.
I can only conclude that now is the time to decide what I want my last words here to be.