In the twilight of my college days, I’ve been spending a lot of my time thinking about how I should be feeling. I probably should be sad or excited, or maybe just super nostalgic. I should go out with my friends while we still live within walking distance of one another, and I should let go of parts of my past that have been weighing me down. I should be happy! I shouldn’t be walking down the streets of Evanston wearing yet another striped turtleneck, listening to Scott Street and thinking about how hard it is to say goodbye.
Northwestern is a should institution. You should push yourself academically, and you should latch on to your passions. You should take on leadership roles in your extracurricular activities, and you should find time to be social while also getting a healthy amount of sleep. It’s an exhausting sort of pressure, but for someone like me, it’s also addictive. We attend a flawed university, but I have found comfort in some of those flaws.
Having a plan – a set of things you should be doing to get you from one place to another – makes me feel like I have everything under control. If I take the right classes, I’ll get the right internships. If I join the right clubs, I’ll meet the right people. If I make the right friends, I’ll never be lonely. If I do everything right, I’ll be happy.
For a long time, I deluded myself into thinking that this formula worked for me, and maybe it did, for a while. But eventually, things are bound to go wrong. You get off track, and you learn your expectations might not have been fair. You learn that maybe there is no should.
Looking back, I think my best memories of Northwestern will be the times when I deviated from my plan. I’ll remember being dragged to dinner downtown when I was behind on homework, and I’ll remember being forced to see It at $5 Tuesday and screaming in front of a packed theater. I’ll remember one of my best friends taking me to the hospital after I had an allergic reaction to a dessert (!) of all things, and I’ll remember having one too many drinks and forgetting the words to Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter” at WOB karaoke. I’ll remember all of the nights NBN newsroom went late. Most of all, I’ll remember the people that have seen me at my worst and laughed, choosing to love me anyway.
Since I graduated in December, I’ve already received my diploma. It should be perfect – after all, it’s worth $50,000 in student loans. Instead, I opened the envelope to find a shiny piece of paper with a crease down the middle, bent from being shoved into my mom’s mailbox. It seems somewhat fitting to have one last reminder that I can’t control everything, no matter how hard I try. I might have two degrees, but in the end, I think I’m still learning, and that’s OK.