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And the show goes on

| Friday, May 13, 2022

Sitting down to write this column, even thinking about writing this column, is more than a little daunting. How, in 800-1000 words, do you attempt to articulate, wrap up or even lightly address the close of the last four years? The last four, crazy, broken up, influential years of learning, laughter, friendship, tears, life lessons, late nights, long days, short weeks and interminable assignments.  All those clichés and realities of college. The answer is, you can’t. There aren’t enough words and even if there were, I don’t think they’d do the experience justice. So I’m going to start instead by thinking about something a little less stressful and introduce you to some of the side characters in my college career. 

Do you have a roster of side characters from your college experience? You know, those split-second encounters, conversations overheard or unguarded moments where you catch someone in the act of “whatever.” And now they’re a story, something or someone for you and your friends to remember and chuckle at, or groan about days, months, years later, all in good fun of course. Sometimes these characters only appear in one life-episode, other times they get a recurring plotline.  For example there’s Cake Guy — he tried to airplane-style feed my friend cake at a brother-sister dorm event Welcome Weekend. Sorry Cake Guy, your side plot is still in robust circulation. Or Glasses Guy, a cute guy with glasses (clearly we’re extraordinarily creative in the naming of our side characters) we’d see at the gym almost every day at the same time and never, not once, ever talked to. Milk Boy… why did you need to get five glasses of milk every night in the dining hall? Why was only one chocolate milk? And why was the sixth glass on your tray Powerade?  So many questions. Bradley Cooper Guy looked like Bradley Cooper (shocker). He was also very cute, and I also never talked to him. Or even Hot Take Girl, who prefaced every comment in class with “hot take,” regardless of the actual temperature of her take. That takes guts, Hot Take Girl. Everyone’s got them, these little offshoots and funny stories, a repertoire of the people you lived in and around for the last four years. 

But why bring up these side characters? Why make us wonder what side character we are in someone else’s life? Why affirm everyone’s worst fear that the embarrassing thing you did in a moment of panic in the middle of Duncan or class or the quad or wherever was actually seen and remembered by somebody? And worse, that they may talk about it years later! 

Because I actually think it’s kind of a beautiful thing, a fun and certainly funny, way to reminisce on the last few years we’ve all spent here. At the momentous end of four formative years, it’s so easy to wonder about the connections never made, the potential side stories abandoned and to dwell on the all embarrassing things that happened. My roommate and I once accidentally interrupted a fish funeral being performed on South Quad, a very moving ceremony with music and everything. Now the two of us, we have a rather funny little story about Fish Funeral Boys and the way they very seriously shushed us. For Fish Funeral Boys, perhaps we’re also those girls that interrupted Flipper’s funeral, Fish Funeral Interrupter Girls. It’s sort of a colorful way to think about the mosaic of experiences we had at college, all of us having simultaneously parallel, and yet interconnected experiences, all at the same time, in the same place, everyone’s storylines bumping into each other, bumbling, getting tangled, making a mess of things and then miraculously shooting off in new, exciting directions, a little like what will happen as we leave school as well. 

But even more than that, these little side stories help you to remember the main plot, anecdotes as dots on the timeline of our years here, coloring the cast of characters you made all these memories with and the web of life and story you’ve woven together. Each of these stories index little memories about life here, the nuances of day-to-day life that get immortalized as recurring jokes. That the fish funeral is even a story is only because my roommate and I took weekly strolls on Monday nights, just to be on campus, process life and give our brains a rest. They are some of my favorite memories with her, from the deep talks about life, to just shooting the shit as we wandered around and wrecked fish funerals. Cake Guy is a story because that was a formative moment during Welcome Weekend, a collective “did that really just happen” that trauma bonded my friend Grace and I together — we’ve been pretty fast friends ever since. Each ridiculous side story, the actual and figurative characters of my college years, marks a memory, a story plucked from the random day-to-day that helps me remember and catalog the everyday moments of fun that made college life bright amidst the permacloud and drudgery of what sometimes felt like endless work. That kind of memory making has made the last four years really special and I can look back at such moments and see the growth, friendships and laughter that has spiraled out of even the most tragic of encounters. 

It’s easy to see graduation as an ending. But it’s not, really — you’re just entering season two (or maybe three). The side characters will change (so long Cake Guy) and the plot thickens, but it’s not a different show (unless you want it to be).  The memories made here, the jokes, embarrassment, sweetness and all, are yours to keep and hold onto, they’re the basis of the storyline, your storyline, and that kind of memory making doesn’t stop just because college is over. I’m not saying your life has to be a movie, but it’s worth remembering that the show goes on. Graduation is sad, but also exciting, and likely only sad because the last four years were exciting. In the end I guess I’m not going to wrap up my college years at all. Instead, I’m looking forward to what comes next, to being and meeting new side characters, to making new mistakes and new memories, armed by the mistakes and memories I made here. Thank you to my friends for making memorable mistakes with me and for turning those mistakes and tragedies into fun. I wish you sunny skies and many more memorable mistakes and hope you never again encounter a Cake Guy (but if you do, I know you’ll tell me all about it). 

So, to end with both closure and cliffhanger, I guess all I have left to say is: To be continued…   

Abby is graduating with degrees in English and Anthropology and a minor in Business Economics. Next year she will be in the Czech Republic as an English Teaching Assistant for the Fulbright Program.

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

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