We’ve all heard the cliché that our time in college will fly by. It’s not that I didn’t believe it, but four years really is like the blink of an eye. It feels like a couple months ago, I was moving into the dorms for the first time, finding my way around campus, and eating the “food” at Panda Express for the first time. But now, after four and a half years at Memphis, I, alongside hundreds of others, will finally graduate from college.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been reflecting on my own path through college, as well as the unique path my freshmen class of 2019 took to reach this point. For those of us in that class still in school, we will be the last class that experienced college before Covid. That semester and a half before the world turned upside down was undoubtedly one of the best times of my life. I met people that I know will be lifelong friends. I could walk into the common area of my dorm any time of the day and never fail to find random strangers to meet and chat with. I was only taking intro and gen-ed classes then, so everything was pretty easy, and the vibes were good.
2019 also had Memphis football’s greatest season in history, with the 17-ranked Tigers going 12-1 in the regular season (and we would have had a perfect record if we hadn’t gotten cheated at Temple). Fortunately, I was in band that year, so I got to see every game in-person, including our visit to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Even though we lost, it’s something I’ll never forget.
Of course, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. 2020 brought the world, and all of our lives, to a complete halt. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for freshmen that fall to begin college completely online, but for me, having already experienced a normal semester, knowing what I was missing made living through the pandemic all the more depressing. Online classes are a blur. Every day that passed sitting around at home felt like a wasted opportunity to live my life. The pandemic feels so distant now, almost surreal, yet I can’t help but feel an untargeted sense of resentment remembering it.
Eventually, like most things, it passed, and life returned to a somewhat normal state. I finally picked a major, journalism, and worked my way though it. I became editor of the Helmsman, and earned an internship with the Commercial Appeal. I’ll admit I definitely surpassed my own expectations of myself. I should allow myself to be proud of what I’ve done, and so should all of you.
I imagine I speak for most of us when I say that I don’t know how to feel about graduating. On one hand, we’ll (hopefully) be entering the workforce soon, making real money, with any luck at a job we enjoy. There’ll be no more classes to worry about, no more homework, no more exams.
On the other hand, a full-time job is the death of free time. I'm probably exaggerating, but after working full time this summer, I struggle to see how I’ll be able to put genuine time into my hobbies and friends. College is the easiest time in our lives to meet new people and make real connections. And I’m really going to miss that.
Let’s be real. It’s a massive transition. And it’s a little scary. I’m permanently exiting from what I would easily consider the best years of my life, and I can’t return. Unless I switch careers, which is unlikely, I’ll be doing the same job for 40, 50, 60 plus years. It’s not that I don’t enjoy what I do; in fact, I love it, there’s no job or degree I’d rather have than to be a writer and photographer. But as a 22-year-old, that sheer length of time is frankly intimidating.
The unknown is daunting. I don’t know where I’ll end up after graduation, what my job will be, where I’ll live, or how I’ll cope with life changing so rapidly. But I remain hopeful, and I genuinely hope everyone graduating with me feels the same. Ultimately, thinking about college, I mostly remember the good stuff. Even through things like COVID, difficult classes and deaths in the family, I learned who I am and who I want to be, and I’m a better person for it.
So, to my fellow graduates, if in a few months you’re feeling lost and unsure of yourself or your future after college, remember to give yourselves some credit; you just accomplished something incredible. If you made it through college and everything in between, you can surely accomplish anything. And go Tigers!