Twentieth college reunion!

I’m just back from my twentieth college reunion. TWENTIETH! I cannot even get over that. College feels like a lifetime ago and it feels like yesterday. I feel 42 and I feel 18. I have an almost-teenager and I myself am leaving my teens behind.  

Most of my dearest friends and I have returned to Northwestern for every fifth-year reunion since 1998, but this year’s was the best. I don’t know that I can explain why but it certainly doesn’t hurt that everyone is doing so well. What a joy to watch your friends grow into such successes- in their careers and marriages, as parents, as hobbyists, as adults.

We have all settled into ourselves for the most part, and that, too, is a joy to see and to experience. So many of the concerns of our teens and twenties are immaterial now- figured out, left behind, small relative to things since.

What remains are the sorts of friendships you can only, in my opinion/experience, forge in college. In late nights laughing and talking in cramped rooms in somewhat dingy dorms. In too many beers and cookies and study sessions and heartbreaks. Through too many parties and concerts and all-nighters and the library stacks. That I made on the fourth floor of Bobb-McCulloch, in the Sargent dining hall, in Delta Gamma and in parties at Delt and Fiji. In so many classrooms and bad grades and good ones, in sesame bagels with cream cheese and raspberry jam, in rollerblading along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Then and now (above and below)…

This past weekend, as we visited old haunts, bought new NU t-shirts to replace our worn ones, partied but also went to bed earlier than we once did (except for Alli who retains the ability to stay out until 4am), all the connections we all made so long ago--twenty-four years ago for those of us who met freshman year--proved as viable as ever. Minus some quotidian details, we were good friends who’d simply not seen each other for a while. 20+-year history with others, especially those who’ve experienced such formative years alongside you, is a hell of a relational scaffold.  

I was not academically prepared for Northwestern but I was capable, and I’m so glad I pushed myself to rise to the (somewhat terrifying) occasion and quickly learn so much of what I should have been provided in high school. I did miserably my freshman year- both because of my relative lack of prep but also because I focused primarily on my social life. And while I’m sorry to have squandered a year of classes at an incredible school, I wouldn’t trade for the world the education I got beyond the lecture halls: in those dorms, at those parties, during the long talks and rollerblades and trips to Chicago. In those moments, I shed the many limitations I felt in high school and became an unrefined version of the truest me. It was and remains a thrill, the greatest gift. I wish everyone had such a four-year watershed experience.

In my work with prospective college freshmen today, I respect their school choices completely, but I do urge them to think deeply about why they’re applying where they are. What do they love, or think they love? Who do they hope to surround themselves with? Is the environment of each school truly one in which they feel they can be challenged and thrive?

I urge them to study hard but also to play hard. To cut themselves some break and breathe deeply and embrace more than academics with abandon. I have never once regretted doing just that. My friends don’t either. And we are fuller and richer for it.

Nineteen again

Recently, prompts in one of my writing groups have guided my memories and pen backward in time. More Ouija board than overt direction, these prompts, about forgetting, remembering, standing out, blending in, have turned my pages back to the early chapters of middle and high school.

As is perhaps the case for many of us, I have a seriously conflicted set of memories about that time. Those coming-of-age years were not in any way my "glory days," but they included some marvelous, magical moments and provided a great deal of preparation and comparative context for college and early adulthood.

College. The proverbial best four years of my life it largely was. Despite being woefully unprepared academically, I was blissfully happy. I'd managed to throw my type-A, accomplishment-oriented cloak into Lake Michigan, watch it sink and race back to campus in time for the next party.

My grades plummeted, and I gained some of that freshman weight (you would too if you had Dan's Cookies on speed dial, ready to deliver warm cookies and milk at midnight; and/or kegs everywhere). I fell madly in love, lost that love, became friends with some of the women who are still my dearest soul mates, learned what real cold is and how to make a snow angel, joined a sorority and turned 19.

When I flipped the page to my final teen year, I was 75% of the way through my freshman year.  I had and was sick of the largest, ugliest, warmest parka you could buy at Eddie Bauer, I'd ruined gin for myself for the rest of my life (don't ever do shots of gin; terrible idea; I still can't even smell it.), I played ice hockey the night before a midterm, I couldn't believe I'd soon return to Louisiana for summer break.

I didn't know what lay ahead of me when I tearfully watched my parents and sister drive away from my dorm back in September. If I had known what a blank slate I'd just been given, I'd not have hidden in my room for four days in fear, quivering until my roommate said, "Emmy, you just gotta get out there."

While I'm certain she said that as much for her benefit as mine, she was right, and out I went.

When I was nineteen, I'd just learned about the complete liberation that comes from being no more than who you truly are. Of letting people meet that truth from the outset and seeing where such honesty takes things. It was almost like returning to a childhood state of mind, before the veil of after-college-into-a-career slipped down as had the pre-pubescent one. 

I'm certain this time of transparency (and relative lack of responsibility) is why so many remember college as a thrilling, watershed time of life. Why we look back on it with rose-colored (or beer-goggled) glasses and idealism and smiles. It's certainly why I do. Oh, to have been nineteen.
*This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post (just a little bit late) that grew from the prompt "When I was 19...". Hosts this week are Kristi of Finding Ninee, Mimi of Mimi Time, and Vidya from Coffee with Me