Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Is it really over?

Two days ago I moved out of Ann Arbor, my home for the past four years. Standing in that empty dorm room, looking at the posterless walls, the desk no longer stacked with books and papers, the ridiculously narrow twin bed ... it was an incredible moment when I realized that I was no longer a college student.

For the past couple months, anyone who's talked to me knows just how much I wanted to be done. I've complained about exams, cursed extra study sessions, and even started thinking that writing just one more mundane essay really would kill me.

But I made it.

The graduation ceremony was unprecedented this year. Due to construction, the Big House was unavailable, so the students voted on an alternate location, choosing the Diag. We were the first graduating class to ever hold commencement in this oh-so-familiar part of campus. The trees framed the huge video screens all around the venue. Seats were crammed in rows upon rows upon rows all the way back to North University Street. The steps to the graduate library had been transformed into an elegant flower-lined stage with at least twenty brightly-colored flags providing the backdrop.

Bob Woodruff gave an excellent speech. He spoke with an easy-going charm that could make even his sales pitch for his book seem funny and conversational. The student speaker was also pretty good. He told a story about an old Native American legend concerning the wolverine. When he got to the part of the story where "even the wolverine failed" the entire crowd started booing, which was pretty hilarious. He eventually went on to say that the wolverine kept trying and eventually succeeded, thereby providing an excellent example of how we should never give up.

But after all of that, after my actual graduation, the $1.5 million commencement ceremony, I still didn't completely comprehend how huge this all was. It didn't seem final. It didn't seem like it was all over. But once I was in my empty room, all packed up with my car keys in hand, that was when it hit me.

It's true what they say: you don't really appreciate something until you don't have it anymore. Except this time, it was those last moments slipping away that I realized what I would soon lose: my little Ann Arbor town. It really has been a great place to live. The way the city merges together with the campus, the trees in full bloom during the first months of the fall semester and again as the school year ends, the endless stream of pedestrians stopping traffic, and especially all the legends about everything from underground tunnels to riot-proof architecture to the curse of stepping on the "M" too soon. All of it ... I was going to miss it.

But this feeling, it was more than just knowing I was going to miss Ann Arbor. I felt astonished. Had I really been here four years? Was my college career really over? It felt like I had literally only moved into my freshman dorm room in East Quad two or three days ago. Four years? One whole college degree? Standing there in the empty room, it felt like the universe had played some sort of cosmic trick on me. Time had been moving in fast forward all along.