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‘Leave Meeting’: The final click of undergrad

| Friday, May 15, 2020

On Wednesday, April 29, I clicked “Leave Meeting” on Zoom — and just like that, my undergraduate career was behind me.

I was in the living room, alone. Out the window, life in downtown Philadelphia whirred slowly. A few cars drove by. People wearing masks were lined up, six feet apart, outside of Trader Joe’s. Somewhere deep below me, the subway rumbled. 

A momentous thing had just happened in this quiet apartment. That “Leave Meeting” click marked the greatest accomplishment of my life. And I was alone, looking at my reflection in the dark computer screen.

My face was stoic. And for as much as that click signified, I felt nothing.

I didn’t run outside, find my friends and gush with relief and excitement. I didn’t hug my senior classmates, knowing we’d all just achieved something huge together. I didn’t pop a bottle of champagne and toast to the end of my lifelong educational journey.

I stared at my face in the reflection of my screen. Then wiggled the mouse, opened a new document and started to write.

As an anthropology and journalism student, one skill I practiced endlessly at Notre Dame was writing. The writing isn’t eloquent prose, it always requires multiple drafts, but I can write quickly. I can put my thoughts on paper — again, it’s no Shakespeare — but with little effort.

In all moments, moments of stress, excitement, confusion, apathy or anything else, I turn to writing. At my apartment in Irish Flats, notebooks were scattered everywhere. I always had paper and pen within arms’ reach just in case — to jot down groceries to buy, a to-do list, my next great Observer story idea.

Mary Bernard | The Observer
On Bernard’s bookshelf, she places her journals and notebooks — filled and unfilled — on the top.

A shelf on my bookcase was dedicated to journals, chronicling my thoughts and feelings for more than eight years. There’s nothing that eats away hours like opening them up. Soon, I’m transported to my past self’s early crushes, the school work I stressed about, the arguments I had with my friends, that time I took up poetry, then sketching, then meditation and so on.

One notebook on the shelf is my earliest journalistic endeavor. Block letters on the front of a six-inch pink spiral notebook read “NOTES ABOUT PEOPLE, 2005.” On long car rides when I was seven, I’d interview my parents, friends, siblings — whoever was around. What’s your birthday? What’s your favorite board game? What’s your favorite letter? The answers would turn into a short profile, with a sketch on the facing page: “Cousin Lydia skiing” or “Papa Fritz BBQ-ing.”

In fifth grade, I signed up to be the “Class Reporter” and write news pieces for our monthly newsletter. My teacher pulled me aside, confused why I signed up for the role. Just a few weeks earlier, during a creative writing exercise meant to show how much we could write in 15 minutes, all I’d written was “I hate writing,” over and over again.

“This is different,” I assured my teacher. “It’s not writing; it’s reporting.”

Writing, at the time, was a terribly stressful concept to me. Writing was creating a publishable book. It was to be creative, artistic, poetic. It was making something as amazing as R.L. Stine or Mary Pope Osbourne. 

Reporting, on the other hand, was much easier. It was listening to someone, watching a scene, staring at a skyline and describing it. It was conveying, through words, something that was true. As the Class Reporter, I didn’t feel pressure to make something beautiful or tear-jerking, I just wanted to tell others the truth.

As time went on, the lines between writing and reporting blurred. If I could report on my friend’s feelings, couldn’t I report on my own? I took up journaling. Aren’t pictures another way to show the truth? I tried sketching, photography.

I never hated writing, I just struggled with it. Often, I still do. And when I find my fingers frozen over the keys, analyzing and judging every word before I put it to paper, I return to the basics: Just write what’s true.

So on Wednesday, April 29, with the final click of my undergrad minutes behind me, that’s what I did. I opened a document and wrote what’s true — how unsettling and sad it is to end college like this. 

I wrote that I’ve worked so hard to get to this point and didn’t realize I wanted some fanfare — more than an empty room and a few texts of encouragement. I’ve never been passionate about pomp and circumstance, but in its loss, suddenly I am. This end feels punishing. Lonely.

And I wrote that I don’t want to overshadow the happiness with negatives.

I’m still graduating, regardless of ceremony. I worked hard, even remotely. I’ll remain proud to be a member of the class of 2020 — a global group that suffers this loss and moves on from it together.

I know I’ll tell my grandkids about that final “Leave Meeting,” the class I was in, the melancholic words I wrote afterward. I’ll remember the exact moment my undergrad ended at a quiet apartment in Philly. How many can say that?

Mary Bernard is graduating with a major in anthropology and a minor in journalism, ethics and democracy. Originally from St. Louis, she lived in Breen-Phillips Hall her first two years on campus. She will intern remotely with the audience engagement team at the Dallas Morning News this summer. She can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Mary Bernard

Mary Bernard is a senior with a major in Anthropology and a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and is the Social Media Editor for The Observer, managing and overseeing all things audience engagement.

Contact Mary