I’ve debated for, well, 20 days exactly whether or not I was going to write about my experience graduating college. Then I realized, I don’t know how to describe it — which means it’s time to write about it.
I guess the graduation countdown began freshman year of college. I’d arrived at the University of Michigan in August 2007 desperate for freedom and choices. High school graduation was one of the happiest days of my life to that point. I was so ready for college, ready to be free of cliquey classmates and insane amounts of homework for AP classes. During that first confusing, overwhelming month of college, I remember looking at a future academic calendar. April 30, 2011. It seemed impossibly far away.
As I meandered through the next two years of college, June 17, 2010 (my 21st birthday) seemed like a much more important date to keep in mind. I made friends, discovered that I really loved this thing called sports writing and managed to get pretty good grades in somewhat interesting classes. It wasn’t until the end of junior year as I watched my older/best friends from the student paper get ready to graduate that I realized, ‘Oh, crap. I’m next.’ I watched their graduation on the Big Ten Network (psh, Obama), and could barely imagine myself sitting in the Big House in a cap and gown 365 days later.
You think you have so much time. And then suddenly, you don’t.
Fall semester flew by. I wasn’t one of those people who commemorated each milestone, like, ‘Oh my gosh! Our last first football game!’ or ‘Oh my gosh! Our last second football game!’ I thought maybe I’d get nostalgic after the last home football game. My fellow football writers and I stayed late, taking pictures on the Block M on the 50-yard line. Then the endzones. We ran around and pretended to catch game-winning touchdowns in dress clothes. I wasn’t sad. I knew we’d have the Ohio State game in Columbus. And then after that game, I wasn’t sad. I knew we’d have a bowl game to cover.
I wasn’t sad when that ended, either — more than anything, I was shocked that football season was over so quickly. Then, the Daily ended. The one thing I’d been associated with for 3.5 years, gone. I was just Nicole now, not Nicole the sports writer from the Daily. I slept a lot. I spent nights with friends at bars. I watched the entire series of The Wire (totally recommend it, by the way). I managed a 4.0 GPA — and I’m still not sure how that one worked out.
Before I knew it, my parents were in Ann Arbor. We were attending graduation receptions and dinners. I was giving my grandparents a tour of the campus I’d called home for four years. This was where I changed from that 17-year-old prep school kid into a strong woman who knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life, I thought as we walked by the student publications building. My friends and I decorated our caps with Block Ms and glitter. Our parents appreciated that during the processional — they spotted us easily. (I still think that they found us because we were some of the last people into the stadium, but our caps were adorable nonetheless.)
I sat through two two-hour graduation ceremonies on April 30, 2011. The first, in the Big House, was beautiful but a bit impersonal. The second, for my small Public Policy major, featured a fascinating keynote speech by the Washington Post’s Robin Wright, who happened to be the first Daily female football writer. Obviously, I loved it. My friend Tom gave the student commencement speech, and I cried for the first time.
We all cried later that night while we held each other during The Gambler. The bar closed, and nobody wanted to leave. After we got shoved out, we all hung out on the sidewalk. I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to go to sleep because that would be the end of graduation. The end of college. Seems like everyone had the same feeling. The sidewalk didn’t start to clear for a good half hour. I cried myself to sleep that night.
I’m still not sure how I feel about graduating college. I know I’m ready to be done with classes and exams. I’m definitely also ready to live somewhere nicer than a house built in the 1950s with poor plumbing and ridiculously high rent. I wasn’t really ready to leave my friends or the city of Ann Arbor, though. I’ve grown apart from most of my high school friends; we’d been friends largely because of convenience. My college friends and I share passions. We’ve done the library-until-4am thing and we’ve also had the ridiculously-fun-cannot-believe-we-did-that stories. Every time I think about not living five minutes away from my best friends from Michigan, I get into a weird, sad funk. Same thing happens when I think about how much I miss the town itself. I miss Benny’s. I miss my gym. I already miss walking down Hoover Street on a Football Saturday.
Graduation isn’t an entirely happy occasion, but it’s not meant to be sad, either. I loved my four years I spent in Ann Arbor, and I feel so incredibly lucky to have made good enough friends that it pains me to be apart from them. I’m proud of my degree from the University of Michigan. Most of all, I’m excited about the future. I’m not sure what it will bring for me past August — hopefully a job that I’m passionate about. Everything will be a challenge (from snagging a good job to keeping in touch with those I care about) but I’m ready for the hard stuff. If I’ve learned anything over the past four years, it’s that surviving the hard stuff makes me a much stronger, smarter person.
On that note, I’ll end this blog post with what ended my graduation night. Take it away, Kenny: