A few weekends ago at a dinner honoring some of my favorite fourth years, I began the final stage of the five stages of grief: acceptance. As my friends stepped up to a podium to say their thanks, offer wisdom, or give an inappropriate roast, I began to accept that in a little more than a month their time as undergraduates at the University will be only a memory, and I will officially be a rising - because I still have the whole summer to be in denial and begin the grief cycle again - fourth year.
Besides the fact I am extremely jealous Katie Couric will be the 2012 graduation speaker, I never could articulate why this year's impending graduation bothered me so much more than in years past. But then someone much wiser than me pointed out there is a real sense of loss about to occur: a loss of those times in The Cavalier Daily office when everyone is deliriously tired, a loss of those late nights which it takes everyone's phone and camera to piece together and a loss of seeing some of my favorite faces around Grounds. I am closer to this graduating class than any class which came before, and because I am losing them, I feel like I am losing a part of myself.
Ever since my AP English Language teacher introduced me to Mary Schmich's iconic graduation column, "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young," it has been my favorite piece of prose in the English language. So naturally, as I was having what John Mayer would probably sing about as a quarter-life crisis sparked by the impending departure of my fourth-year friends, I turned to her column. This time, one piece of Schmich's advice particularly stood out: "Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young." The more I pondered this advice, the more I found it to be true.
When I was younger, my sister Jennifer was my best friend, and even though I never would have admitted this at the time she was a built-in playmate. She was always the Mary-Kate to my Ashley and the only person I knew I could coerce into being my student at pretend school for hours on end. Without her, who else would I have run away with in the Barbie Jeep or shared a room with on family beach vacations? Even though we've always had different outlooks on life, I know there is no barrier of geography now or in the future which could distance us, since she is way better at keeping in contact than I am. And my youngest sister, Lindsey, who arrived on the scene when I was eight years old, will probably be the Lizzie McGuire to our Mary-Kate and Ashley and upstage us still. But regardless of what happens, I realize having two sisters to recount the joys - okay, mostly awkward moments - of childhood with is invaluable.
I think Schmich's advice about needing people from when your childhood is not only applicable to family members, but also to friends who have known you since high school. When I came to college three years ago, I considered myself extremely lucky. My best friend Hilary, who I have known since I was 13 years old, not only also decided to attend the University, but also ended up living in "The Parent Trap" isolation cabin - I mean Hereford - with me. About a month ago, we had lunch and talked about how confused we are about our futures and how we wish we had realized how easy we had it in high school. We definitely wouldn't be complaining about a five-page essay or about walking outside for less than a minute in the rain to our cars at the end of the day now.
I know we are still friends not only because of the mutually assured destruction we have through the awkward photos stockpiled from our early high school days, but also because Hilary has known me for so long. She can help me understand my problems better than a lot of other people. Having someone know my back story and understand why I am who I am is valuable when I'm working through problems.
Even though I now complain about how old I am, I know I am 21 years young, not 21 years old. Like Schmich writes, I am sure "in 20 years, [I'll] look back at photos of [myself] and recall in a way [I] can't grasp now how much possibility lay before [me] and how fabulous [I] really looked." But more importantly, I know in 20 years I'll need the people I knew when I was young. So to my graduating fourth-year friends: Don't let geography and lifestyle create a gap between us. I'll need you just as much later on as I need you now. And remember, my couch - and Littlejohn's - is always open.
Katie's column runs biweekly Tuesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.