I’ve been going on these reminiscing binges lately where I flip through old photos, reread old essays, stuff like that. I’m not sure why. I guess graduation didn’t feel close until now. Maybe if I nestle myself in the earlier memories of my college timeline, the end will once again feel far away? That’s probably part of it. But mainly I enjoy seeing how much of a clueless cutie first-year John was and how much I’ve grown. Still clueless at times, but don’t I look taller now than in that 2015 Halloween picture?
On my latest bender I dug up the first article I ever wrote for The Cavalier Daily. I knew I wanted to join the paper since before Move-In Day, so it was the first thing I applied to in September. The application for this gig, Life Columnist, asked me to write a sample article. So I scribbled up a piece and gave it a title that described my entire first-year — “Lost in Thought while Lost in Newcomb.” I talked about the significance of the first bathroom I used on Grounds — Newcomb first floor, men’s room at the end of the hall, first stall on the left. Where I first left my mark on the University.
I sent in my story, then checked my inbox constantly for a week until I finally got a reply from The Cavalier Daily. I didn’t get in.
I don’t blame the editors for not taking me. My article was awful in the cutest way. To give you an idea, at one point I said “I use that bathroom. As a waypoint. That’s my Point A, that’s where I was born into University life.” I guess I reached the border of how many potty jokes were tolerable and drove right past it.
In this fashion, “two weeks of college old” Baby John, splashes around in mediocrity for a page until he stands up to deliver this:
“U.Va. has a lot more places than the Newcomb bathrooms. I look forward to filling the rest of Grounds with memories. There’s more ahead of me than behind me. More to see than I’ve seen and more to learn than I already know. Grounds will always be Grounds, but I won’t be the same person leaving them as I am now discovering them.”
I shut my laptop and ripped open the Oreos. I don’t remember writing that. But here I am, eight semesters older, and I can tell him he was right. I’ve changed. The John who wrote that was a 2015 Toyota Prius. Now I’m the 2019 Honda Accord with heated leather seats. He was on the McDonald’s Dollar Menu, I’m on the All Day Breakfast one, baby. Revolutionary. He cried when he first called home from his dorm room, I only teared up reading what he had to say in his rejected Cavalier Daily application.
“Even though Grounds isn’t moving, time is, and there are memories to make in this moment before it flies away!” he wrote. That was the last sentence.
Nevermind, I cried.
I think the guy who wrote that would be proud of me. I did what I came here to do. I filled these Grounds to the brim with memories. This reminds me of an important one I made in the beginning of this semester, when I moved my car in the middle of the night as it snowed. My walk back home turned into a wander, and I found myself alone on Central Grounds. On the blank canvas of snow, I could see my memories play out in the same spots they did years ago, like Anastasia does in that “Once Upon a December” song. You were alive when “Anastasia” came out in 1997, right? Am I getting old?
Anyway, I could see first-year John standing by the Amphitheater trying to figure out which of these buildings was Newcomb again? I saw second-year John get his second kiss in front of Minor Hall. I watched third-year John enjoy the quiet walk to bars. And I saw all three of them criss-cross each other on their way to class. And there I was too, watching snow fall silently on cement.
I get asked a lot how I feel about leaving. I’m OK with it. Even though sometimes I like to revel in my sappy nostalgia and eat a sleeve of Oreos, underneath that I’m still OK with it. Because on Final Exercises when I walk down the steps of the Rotunda — assuming the weather is nice and I pass SPAN 2020 — I’ll know something. The same thing I knew four years ago. There’s more ahead of me than behind me. More to see than I’ve seen, and more to learn than I already know.
Let the sun come up on May 18 and stretch the purple shadows across the Lawn. I’m ready.
John Patterson is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.