Some moments have a clearly defined before and after.
I’ve been thinking a lot about endings.
I’ve had so long to see this moment coming, that I thought I’d have felt prepared.
After Spring Break, I even started to try and give myself ‘closure’ on Oberlin. I planned lunches with my favourite professors. I made efforts to be more present to my friends and to take bigger risks in my life. I gave myself permission to observe the beautiful Oberlin spring sky.
And there it was, all building towards that one moment.
Walking across stage to get my diploma, and leaving Oberlin.
As it turned out, none of that prep mattered.
Because at 8:57pm on the 17th of May 2019, I handed in my last Final of Oberlin College.
I still had ‘Senior Week’ to party and say goodbye to my friends. I still had my final OCircus! show to prepare for and perform in. I still had 10 days before I walked across that stage.
But in that moment, my Oberlin College experience as I understood it was over.
And nothing after that made any sense.
A Transient Epilogue.
In Computer Science, there’s this concept called stack overflow.
A stack is a data structure that’s just like a stack of books. You can only either put another piece of data on top of the stack (push) or grab the piece of data that’s currently on top (pop). If you try and put too many things on your stack, it throws an error – a stack overflow.
Senior week and Commencement were supposed to be my last hurrah, a time of celebration.
But as soon as I handed in that last final, all the momentum in my life suddenly stopped. All the structures that had defined my last four years suddenly vanished, without a trace.
I didn’t know what to do with myself.
At first, I desperately wanted to be in some kind of structure again. I wanted to have already graduated, just so that I could move on already. But wait, that wasn’t quite right – I loved this place and these people, and I didn’t want to leave.
I found myself feeling empty, and weirdly (at least, at first), I didn’t mind.
An Emotional Stack Overflow.
Instead of filling up my days spending time with my friends, I discovered that I wanted to do absolutely nothing at all – and already, I can’t remember much of Sunday through Wednesday (except that I didn’t do any packing. Don’t make my mistake).
Most surprisingly of all, I found that I couldn’t cry, even though I desperately wanted to feel something, anything.
It became a joke. On Wednesday night, I was hanging out with a few friends, and we made it a challenge – we alternated playing our saddest songs for each other and saying genuinely how much we’d miss each other.
Of course, we ended up laughing instead.
And then time got weird again.
Thursday hit the gas pedal. Commencement was actually happening. My family was coming in on Friday. I was fully booked out on the weekend with various social events, a swing dance, and department open houses. And we still had the circus show to finish putting together and perform.
But also… I hadn’t packed yet.
The weekend was an even bigger blur than Senior Week. There were too many events to keep track of, too many family members to take care of, and far, far, far too many friends to try and say goodbye to for me to even acknowledge what was happening.
But there was a big moment left for me. One that I was looking forward to more than walking on Monday.
My 12th, and final, OCircus! Show.
It’s hard for me to fully understand and articulate why OCircus! meant so much to me over the years, and I don’t think words can ever really do it justice.
OCircus! was far from the first community that I’ve felt welcomed in, but it was the first place that I felt like I belonged. When I found tumbling and circus, I didn’t just find a passion, I found a family.
Circus is wildly absurd. It’s completely ridiculous. It’s totally beyond understanding.
From the perspective of providing utility, it’s not just meaningless, it spits in the face of meaning. We juggle colourful objects. We climb pieces of fabric and straps and spin around. We stand on each other’s shoulders. We risk our lives for flips. It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.
And yet… these things become meaningful, because we chose to do them, and because we chose to share them with the world.
And through performance, something truly magical happens, something that’s beyond comprehension. More than touching the hearts of an audience, or the deep bond that happens between performers, life becomes beautifully simple, if just for a moment.
It’s a feeling that I still don’t fully comprehend, and don’t think I ever will.
OCircus! showed me how to love myself. It taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to. And it brought me more joy than anything else I ever did at Oberlin College.
I knew I wanted to say how much I loved OCircus! to the troupe, and before our pre-show ritual, down in the lockers of Hales, I started to say my piece.
I could barely get the words out around how much I was crying.
But just as soon as that moment came, it went. Reality slipped back into the twilight zone, I regained my composure and performed in my last circus show.
And… that was it. I went to dinner, I went to Illumination, and I went to bed.
My alarm woke me up at 7:50. I looked at my half-packed room and cursed my procrastination.
I showered, I combed my beard, I put on the cap and gown.
Solomon came out of his room. We took one look at each other in our cap and gowns… and we laughed. I felt like I was wearing a cheap Halloween costume. We looked ridiculous.
There was no way that this was really happening.
We got our ‘graduation cards’, lined up, ‘marched’ to our seats, and well… that was that. Some very nice speeches and three hours of name reading later, and we had our diplomas in hand.
Congratulations graduate! Now please move out of your housing by 10am tomorrow, thank you.
Don’t leave your goodbyes to Monday.
After a hazy afternoon of packing and juggling with some OCircus! alumni, I found myself in the Feve, one last time. A few friends wanted to say goodbye.
A few friends became everyone in the Feve, and soon, I was having more goodbyes than felt reasonable. I felt like I was performing some version of myself, but I wasn’t really there.
And then there was just one more goodbye before I went home and went to sleep. Isabel, a close friend of mine. She did my study abroad program with me.
“Dude, I don’t know when I’ll see you again.”
It was raining when I was walking home from the Feve. It felt like it should have been one of those moments you know? Except, it wasn’t.
The next day, I got in a car. The moment I had been seeing coming for so long. The moment I couldn’t wait to get to, the moment I never wanted to come.
Except, it wasn’t.
Our stories are never anything like what we expect.
If I’ve learned anything at college, it’s that we have to let go of trying to control our narratives.
Humans are natural storytellers. We like things to be black and white, to have a clear linear structure, to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
But that’s not how life is.
And if we try and make ourselves the sole authors of our stories, we’ll often find ourselves sorely disappointed.
Getting in that car and driving away from Oberlin didn’t feel anything like I thought it would. It wasn’t a big hurrah. It wasn’t a big tragedy. If anything, it was unsettlingly boring.
Life moved on.
I went to Connecticut and camped for a week. I took a train down to DC, to hang out with Matt, Solomon, and some old friends. I went to two Tricking gatherings, Euphoria and Neo 7. I moved to Seattle and started working at SANCA.
Acceptance comes quietly, without commemoration.
Barely four weeks have passed since graduation, and yet, it feels like an age ago.
I had no idea how to begin to process it, but just by continuing to create new experiences for myself, I’ve had moments where I’ve started to feel like I’m moving on.
And that process of beginning to find acceptance didn’t come in a single, beautiful, cathartic moment. It just… started to happen.
Do you think one person can change the world?
I’m going to be honest, I have no idea how to try and create some kind of satisfying conclusion to this blog, and to my experience of four years here (other than the usual blog ending, a nostalgic classic rock or folk song, and a bittersweet note about gratitude and living life in the small moments… I know, I’m predictable).
As it turns out, maybe you don’t process four years in four weeks. Maybe, in fact, I’m still not actually over it (judging by the fact that I’m crying finishing this blog).
And maybe Oberlin will always be a part of my story.
But I guess I should finally answer this damn question, our marketing campaign and slogan, as so many other bloggers do.
Do I think one person can change the world?
These days, I’m thinking that it’s not the framework that works for my life.
I want to share joy with the world. I want to help people love themselves more. And I want to change lives, one at a time, starting with my own. As they say, if we fill our cup up first, we can let it overflow.
I don’t know if I can change the whole world. I don’t want that kind of pressure, and I certainly wouldn’t even know where to start.
But if I can know that I changed one person’s world? Well, then that’s enough for me.
Oberlin changed my life.
When I think back on the last four years, all I feel is gratitude. It’s hard to even comprehend just how much I learned, how much I changed, and how much I grew.
But it was never always so easy. There were times when I struggled, when I felt alone, and even when I wanted to leave Oberlin. I wrote about some of them.
And then Senior Year was the best year of my life.
Oberlin gave me the opportunities and experiences to help me start to change my life… and I did. I'm a better person than when I started my Oberlin journey, I'm less insecure, and I'm so much happier. I grew a beard.
It was far more than just an education. It was an incredibly formative time of my life, and I’ll never forget it.
Thank you, Oberlin. Thank you, Obies.
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March 30, 2022