THE ENDING AND THE BEGINNING
Today is Memorial Day, May 29, 2017. I sit in rainy Westport, NY having just completed a puzzle. And senior week. And graduation weekend. And college.
The events that transpired over the past week are a blur, but the feeling that lingers is one of deep gratitude mixed with well-warrented exhaustion. Senior week proceeded like a whirlwind – a temporary unorganized lifestyle coupled with the need to organize my life for the move-out. Though I will skim over some of the details, my favorite moments included Tuesday’s epic trip to Kingdom Trails in East Burke, VT for the best mountain biking on the East Coast and Wednesday’s outdoor concert featuring some of Middlebury’s best student bands. The mountain biking was so good that we are hoping to go back in June, so I hope to do a better job documenting the trip then.
On Friday, family and friends gathered at the Storey Farm in Westport for a small celebration and a large feast. I was particularly thrilled to see those who came from further distances: Miranda (who is now a rising Junior at Bowdoin!) and my grandparents who came up from Florida. We dined on grilled chicken, a multitude of vegetable dishes, an incredible carrot cake, and plenty of Alchemist 16-ounce cans. It was also the first time that Maddie’s parents and my parents were all in the same room together, and everyone enjoyed bonding with old friends and new ones. As I have written in other blog posts, I feel incredibly lucky to have a space within an hour’s drive from campus that is so special to me, and having the graduation party there epitomized this experience.
Saturday was a special day in a different way. I woke early to prepare myself for the Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony. I am still trying to figure out if I am more honored by the nomination itself or the fact that I got to share the stage with so many insanely smart and talented people. Hearing each of the nominee’s future plans was the best part of the ceremony.
My dad and I went for a run and we took things easy in the afternoon, watching some FA Cup soccer and packing up a few final items. We then attended the English Department reception, and I was thrilled to learn that I had received one of the departmental awards. I never doubted choosing English as my major, and now the pride I have felt for my classes and independent work tastes even sweeter.
The last installment of my penultimate day was the party for the senior soccer players, held at the Woodchuck Cider House. Between the eleven of us, our families, and our friends, we had an outstanding “one last night.” And fittingly, the skies over Lake Champlain granted us the most dramatic sunset of the year.
It is tradition at Middlebury for the seniors to stay up all night before graduation. The townhouse quad where I lived turned into a late-night block party, and I went inside only to fix up a midnight coffee for a few friends. But eventually, my “early-to-bed, early-to-rise” habits caught up with me, and I had to retire at 2:30 in the morning. Two hours later, Maddie woke me for a sunrise run, and we jogged up to the highest point on campus to look out over the Green Mountains one last time. As is also tradition, the bakeries in town open early to serve free breakfast to the seniors, so we jogged down to Otter Creek Bakery for an egg sandwich and a few of the tastiest croissants of my life. Sleep deprivation had nothing to do with it.
A few hours later, I was dressed in my cap and gown, ready to graduate. We could not have received better weather, and though the three-hour commencement ceremony dragged at times, everything in it felt right. And nothing was better than the final gift we received as Middlebury Students. Grace Potter, recipient of an honorary degree from the college this year and fellow Vermonter, broke out her guitar and sang her heart out in the final minutes of the ceremony. The song made some cry, some smile, and all of us pause in a moment of gratitude and unity.
The entire week, but especially the graduation weekend and commencement ceremony, was a gift. A chance to be in a place I call home without the pressure of classes or finals hanging over me. An opportunity to explore new Vermont adventures and repeat old favorites one last time. A time to be with those who are closest to me, and to show them how lucky I have been to attend Middlebury. I will remember it all.
Before I close this post, and this chapter of my life, I will remind myself of two thoughts. First, I am not really leaving Middlebury, but rather I am beginning the next phase of my learning and growing. I look forward to new challenges knowing that I am equipped with all that my college experience has taught me. Second, there is a Mary Oliver poem that Professor Brayton gave to me and my peers on the final day of my favorite class at Middlebury. I carry it with my to this day. The message was appropriate then and still fits now.
THE SUMMER DAY
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
– Mary Oliver