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.