It sounds cliche, but these four years really did fly by. As I was packing up everything in my college apartment today, my mom turned to me and said, “you’re not the same person you were when you came here as an 18-year-old.”
Of course. How could I have been? My four years at Northwestern forced me to grapple with questions I never expected to face and make decisions about a future I wasn’t qualified to plan out. I met students, faculty, and staff that completely changed my outlook on achieving success, having ambition and extracting happiness and beauty out of the difficulties in life. NU is one of the most stressful universities in the country, but a huge part of why I was able to power through a thesis, countless exams, and papers was because of the illustrious tradition that came before me and the genuine company that surrounded me throughout my four years.
But it was the disingenuous company that forced me to work harder. I remember developing my academic self my freshman and sophomore year of college, but my political development during the second half of college completely rounded me out. Before college, I had flirted with the concept of justice - surface-level humanitarian work, research, etc.. but I did not learn to practice justice until I saw shortcomings in my own experience and the experiences of my peers. I spent much of junior year collecting knowledge and narratives to develop my politics. I spent almost the entirety of senior year wielding my politics on justice through various capacities on campus, and felt empowered in ways that I had never expected to.
Developing what you believe in is hard. Living a life that practices that belief is harder. For the past four years, I’ve seen people I know jump on and off every sort of bandwagon out there. I did a fair share myself. If it weren’t for the friends and colleagues with whom I developed deep relationships during my sophomore, junior, and senior years, I would have never acted upon the courage and independence they found and inspired in me. Being congratulated and celebrated as an individual does not instill the sense of pride, thanks and happiness that is felt when I am beside the people who inspire me to do better, challenge assumptions, and support me when I consider giving up.
The most difficult part of leaving Northwestern will not be leaving Northwestern itself… It will be the voices, views, ambitions, interests, talents, and humanity that occupied the intangible spaces on campus and encouraged me to grow — that is what I am trying to hold on to for the rest of my life. I spent four years meticulously planting and nourishing friendships and communities that matter so deeply to me that I cannot imagine moving on with my life without still feeling grounded by their power and beauty. It is unsettling to so abruptly feel uprooted from a place where I felt comfort and joy as a young person. Everyone keeps speaking of the future as if it is something to look forward to but I’m still in the phase of nervous anticipation. I’m apprehensive about the inevitability of growing apart from people I love. I am also worried about how much of that might become my fault. I’m afraid of failing.
The worst fears are tempting to dwell on as we all start to relocate and begin our careers. I feel tempted to despair over the mediocrity of working 9-to-5 like my parents, of losing touch with my friends, of taking on more responsibilities, of becoming more serious, or containing who I am. But like I said earlier, my four years at Northwestern forced me to grapple with questions I never expected to face and make decisions about a future I wasn’t qualified to plan out. Answering the difficult questions, or in some cases, realizing and accepting that they couldn’t be answered left me empowered and invigorated. The future was, and always will be, a work-in-progress. The uncertainties and difficulties of college supplied me with courage, knowledge, and a necessary realization that the real world is hard, and I’ve been pretty oblivious to it until now. I hope the rest of my life only continues to strengthen and reinforce the magic and importance of my experiences in college.
I must bring good to this world, to the people I love and care for, and to myself. It is the most succinct and poignant obligation I can think of, and probably the only one that matters.