Packing for me is like being in a time warp. Every time is just as shitty as the last time. As I stand here in my empty room, three boxes of all my worldly possessions shoved in the corner, a detritus of dust balls and paper scraps on the floor, and Jimmy Eat World blaring from my computer, I have the strange sensation that things never really change no matter how many times you pack up and go. All the comings and goings of my life bleed together and all of a sudden I’m eighteen again, leaving home, same clothes packed into the same shitty boxes. Those bedroom walls were orange and these ones are green, then I was a little more excited and a lot less tired, but that feels like the only difference.
I’m in a bit of a fugue state that’s not happy or sad. It isn’t melancholy either; I don’t know if there is a word for this feeling. It just feels like four years of undergrad should lead you somewhere else than standing in an empty bedroom. I guess I thought graduating would be climactic somehow- I would finish my last exam, I would suddenly feel Educated, balloons would be released, a crowd of people would come running around the corner and lift me onto their shoulders and I would suddenly feel completely vindicated for all the sleepless nights, terrible group projects, last-minute cramming and liver damage. But nobody threw me up on their shoulders, nobody said congratulations, and nobody reassured me that it was all worth it. I am obviously aware that this is completely normal, but I guess I was still harboring deep down the remnants of some Dead Poets Society vision of postsecondary education. Sadly, in real life there are no swells of emotionally-charged orchestra music to accompany our noteworthy moments.
So, I am left to my own devices to make some sense of it all.
My thoughts turn first to the people I have known throughout university, and the wise words of the immortal J.R.R Tolkien come to mind: “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.” If university has taught me anything, it is that there is a strong positive correlation between level of neurosis and level of education. The key is to find people who can both educate themselves and laugh at themselves; these people are the gems. Looking back and thinking about those with whom I spent these four years, the only common denominator is that none of them take themselves too seriously. Which is good, because smiling fondly and looking back on our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year selves, I realize what absolute train wrecks we all were at one point or another.
And then there’s dedication to one’s studies- or lack thereof, depending. My relationship with academics has been like a family member: you can’t get rid of them, sometimes you hate them, sometimes they drive you crazy, but they are always in the back of your mind. I think it’s easy to forget why you’re in university at 9 am on a Wednesday when you sit bleary-eyed in a grey classroom, fluorescent lighting burning your retinas and a professor’s passionless words washing over you. Or at 3 am on a Thursday when you can count on one hand the hours of sleep you have had that week, and that essay still isn’t finished. But it is important to try even in those moments to remind yourself why you’re there, because I will tell you right now there is no Great Moment of Truth when you graduate that suddenly validates all your efforts and makes everything make sense. The closest I have ever come to an intellectual epiphany occurred in second year, while I was breaking into my own house in the middle of the night in the dead of winter. Inspiration takes the strangest forms and happens in the weirdest places, but just go with it. If not, you can read as much as you want and you’ll never learn anything.
As I stand absent-mindedly in this empty room, I try to think if there are any absolutely essential pearls of wisdom that undergrad has taught me. Well, I’ve learned a hell of a lot, but I don’t know how useful that information is to everyone else – never drink four Jagerbombs in quick succession, begging is a legitimate course of action in dealing with professors, always check best-before dates (especially in a friend’s fridge), sleep deprivation sometimes makes you do socially unacceptable things. Life is trial-and-error and every student comes to their own creative conclusions on these sorts of things.
But if I could tell everyone one thing that undergrad taught me, it would not be that blue Gatorade, greasy egg sandwiches and The Lion King cure a hangover, although that is true. I would tell everyone to not be afraid. Fear is paralyzing. Fear is the only thing that keeps people from doing what they want to do, and fear is the only thing that keeps many people unhappy and convinced they can’t change their situation. Unless you are on an African safari or strolling down a dark alley at night, fear is totally useless and is just a leftover emotion from a time when we spent our days crouched in caves. Four years of being around stressed students has taught me that being afraid is easy because there are so many things that we can say we’re afraid of. Failure, debt, rejection, losing, inadequacy, too much work, being made fun of, being alone, being misunderstood: there are a million different words for the same thing. If being afraid is easy, what is harder is accepting that you have nothing to be afraid of. When you realize that you have nothing to be afraid of, suddenly all those excuses sound empty and hollow. Undergrad has shown me that people love to hide behind rationalizations, and that all of these rationalizations are rooted in fear. Get rid of the fear, and what are you left with? A lot of people who don’t know what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. Which is totally fine, because that’s what growing up is. But you will never be any closer to figuring things out if you live in fear. Fear just delays the moment of being responsible for your own actions.
So as I leave this bedroom, this city, this life, I am not afraid, because I have nothing to fear. And I think that maybe if I was to justify spending so much money on four years of overpriced education, spaghetti, and the occasional bender, I would say that the most important thing that I have learned is how to be fearless. I may not be any more intelligent now than when I arrived, but I am certainly a little wiser. So sayonara, fellow students, friends, and partners-in-crime. Whether or not you are graduating, be fearless as you trip and wander around tomorrow and in all your future endeavours. Fortune favours the brave.