The Colgate Scene
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A predicted ending
|by Katherine Wiley '00|
This, of course, is not true for most students' undergraduate experiences at Colgate. From the beginning, those who become Red Raiders know their Colgate days are numbered.
When I arrived here in the fall of 1996, I knew that, if I successfully navigated through difficult classes, family emergencies and the other trials of the undergraduate, four years in the future I would join my class in crossing the stage by the banks of Taylor Lake. It was easy to calculate the amount of time between orientation and becoming an alumna: before donning my cap and gown I would have to plow through eight semesters, three summers, 32 classes and (probably) four different places of residence.
So in April of 2000 I felt ready for graduation. I'd known it was coming ever since I sent in my tuition deposit and, thanks to my many informants, I knew what to expect. Or so I thought.
Despite my extensive mental preparation, somehow May 21, 2000 managed to arrive as a surprise. As I handed in my last hurried blue book, shopped for pasta one final time in the Hamilton Grand Union and returned my last overdue library book I couldn't believe that graduation awaited behind a buffer, not of semesters, but of days. Where had the time gone?
I wasn't alone in my surprise. Downtown, the night after most seniors had finished with exams and papers, instead of filling the bars with whoops of elation, we seemed calm, subdued and overwhelmingly lost. Why had no one informed us that the time would speed by so quickly? Was it possible that in a week we would join the ranks of Colgate alumni?
"I actually had four hours free [this afternoon] and I didn't know what to do
with myself," one girl said. While this genuine free time was appealing, being
at Colgate without having schoolwork or other obligations was an experience so
foreign to most of us that it could only signal one frightening truth; the end
was approaching at full throttle.|
Not only did graduation sneak up ten times faster than I'd thought possible, but most of the expectations I'd harbored about the graduation festivities were finally incorrect. Moments that I had expected to be low points of the week became high points for me and commencement events that I had looked forward to throughout my four years were not always as touching or meaningful as I'd anticipated.
When I look back on this week-end years from now I think that I will not so much remember the week's events themselves, but how I was feeling throughout them. Over-whelmingly, I felt emotionally torn as my thoughts leapt back and forth between the surety of the past and the uncertainty of the future.
I had been warned that we would be kept extremely busy throughout the entire week -- which proved to be pretty accurate. We dashed from event to event, stayed out late and rose early in order to attend more activities. I'd expected to be so distracted by the barrage of speakers, meals, concerts and sleep deprivation that I imagined that I wouldn't have much time for thought. This was certainly true during some of the events.
The torchlight, for instance, had been billed as the most meaningful moment of
the weekend. But as I marched down the hill lined with picture-snapping parents
and circled the lake, my thoughts were primarily focused upon the immediate
activities: Would I trip and fall as we teetered down the hill? Would I, and my
classmates, escape the evening without going up in flames? Would we ever
successfully organize ourselves enough to stretch entirely around the lake?
Weren't we supposed to sing the Alma Mater? What were the words again? Why did
that torch-laden senior jump into murky Taylor Lake? What did Adam and Eve
think of all of this?|
The torchlight was beautiful, but it didn't induce the crocodile tears of nostalgia I'd anticipated. Other events, however, elicited waterfalls of memories.
Early in the week, we filled the Hall of Presidents to watch the senior slide show. The photos drew applause and laughter as they traced our development -- and our Halloween costumes -- over our four years. While we'd begun as frightened freshmen and we might now be frightened seniors, the slide show reminded us that in between the two we had also become foreign travelers, star athletes and best friends.
Likewise, as we huddled beneath the drizzle that clouded the commencement ceremony, not only did I cheer for friends as they shook Senator John McCain's hand and accepted their diplomas from President Buddy Karelis, I also found myself reflecting back upon the friendships that had colored my Colgate years. The names Gary Ross called out were not just impeccably pronounced, they were roommates, lab partners, formal dates, team members and confidants.
For me though, the memories struck most sharply not during these pre-planned events, but when I was engaging in the most dreaded undertaking of the week -- packing. Gentle reminders from responsible adults (parents) kept this activity at the forefront of even the most adamant procrastinators' minds. And as tedious as it was sifting through overflowing drawers that often housed four years of flyers, pictures and trash, these objects conjured memories that had long been buried deep within my subconscious.
As my roommates and I packed up the past, our apartment reverberated with
these memories: Remember when we all dressed up as eighth graders sophomore
year to go to that frat and then went to the Barge instead? Remember the
Montreal trip? Remember sitting in our window our last day on campus before
leaving to study abroad?|
As sad as it was to see my belongings be reduced to a few -- or a mountain -- of boxes and garbage bags, shuffling through these memories was, for me, the commencement event that led to the most meaningful reflection about the past four years.
Almost as frequently as my thoughts turned to the past, they dabbled into the future. In this realm though, they found not teary nostalgia, but the fright of thousands of unanswered questions.
My thoughts again drifted toward the future when I listened to Buddy award the honorary degrees during the graduation ceremony. The recipients were examples of people who had found success and fulfillment in their pursuits and who had been lucky enough to enhance the lives of others along the way. Would Colgate's Class of 2000 be able to do the same? Would we find life paths that stimulated and excited us? Ten years from now would we feel that our liberal arts educations had enhanced us as thinkers and learners? Would we find jobs? Places to live? Mentors to guide us? People to love? New ways to grow?
These dabblings into the future made me feel very alone and very unsafe. It is exciting to "have your whole life ahead of you," but it is also frightening to be entering one of the first periods in your life when very little is set. Most of us wouldn't be going to school in September as we had done for so many years in the past. Many of us didn't even know what we'd be doing or where we'd be living in the following months.
However, overall, the moments during my final days at Colgate that I found most meaningful were not these contemplations of the past or the future, they were the moments in which I was able to simply enjoy the present.
And throughout the week's emotional ups and downs, the presence of my family, and my friends' families, reminded me that, although right now I might be confused and unsettled, things would be ok. These were the people who had loved us four years ago when they deposited us in empty dorm rooms. They were also the people who, no matter what happened with our lives after Colgate, would still love us.
On the drive home from the Virginia Beach Senior Class one of my friends asked if this was the way we would feel returning to Colgate years from now. Later, another friend answered, "Remember how you asked if this is how we'll feel going back to Colgate as alumni? You know, I kind of feel like I'm going home."
Amidst the good-byes of Senior Week I couldn't help but feel that our Colgate experiences were not really ending. After all, I'd imagine that, even though you eventually have to leave most of the places you come to call home, these places have a way of staying with you forever. While we will never again take classes in the Chenango Valley or organize campus-wide fundraisers or live in Newell, when we drove away on Route 12B for the last time we carried not just overflowing carloads of boxes and bags, we carried our Colgate experiences as well.
Hopefully, the years we spent on the hill have helped provide us with the tools to enter the world with some sense of who we are and who we want to be. The world might be a scary place, but we're ready.
Katherine Wiley graduated summa cum laude with High Honors in English, Distinction in Liberal Arts Core Curriculum and Phi Beta Kappa
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