I ’m in denial about leaving Vassar. Denial is convenient. I pretend that I still have classes to attend, meetings to schedule, events to plan and friends to spend time with. I imagine senior week as a reinforced vacation for the seniors. I like to preface statements with, “I’ll see you next week!” I guess I pretend that I’m still a college student next week.
I know this may sound too real and morbid for many people. I know that for others, I am sugarcoating the Vassar experience. But I think I’m just being nostalgic. For me, nostalgia is a form of grief. I should probably preface this. I wrote my senior thesis in Religion on death denial attitudes and mortality literatures. One of my chapters was on grief. This week, I realize how certain parts of my writing have spilled into reality. I recognize grief for its diverse manifestations. Grief is coping with any form of loss. Grief is strangely complicated. And grief is in constant flux.
I say this because I witness grief in many of my own interactions. I am beginning to understand why I hold people a little longer while hugging them. I get why I walk through Main or the well-traveled pathway between Olmsted and Blodgett and there’s a large lump in my throat. I realize why I blame “allergies” for my watery eyes when I hand off my office keys or sign off for my last EMS shift or perform for my last concert or write my last email for a student org. I feel a certain unspoken weight around my friends when we are together.
Leaving Vassar is a form of loss. And I think it’s valuable to acknowledge that. I grieve because Vassar was and is a critical part of my existence. I cared profoundly about this institution with its flaws and all. And without acknowledging the loss, I cannot appreciate what Vassar gave me. Vassar gave me both exhilarating moments of joy and crushing experiences of despair. Vassar introduced me to some of the most incredible people I could ever hope to meet. Vassar nurtured, broke, and shaped me. I couldn’t be more grateful.
Here’s what four years have taught me:
I learned how to fall down and stumble back up.
I learned when it was okay and necessary to be vulnerable.
I learned how to juggle diverse commitments and found that time was a construct.
I learned when to bite my tongue and listen.
I learned about authentic friendship.The friends who fed and made you tea and watched you cry and listened and gave you hugs when you needed them are worth having for life. I learned to relish the beauty of midnight conversations and pots of tea.
I learned that people were their most vulnerable when they became a patient.
I learned that you could help someone feel better just by stepping into a room in EMS uniform.
I learned that people share their stories when you let them speak.
I learned that community can be as simple and profound as taking off your shoes, sitting on the floor, and listening to each other’s childhoods.
I learned that sleep is not always possible but it makes smiling easier.
I learned that my family cared tremendously about my health and well-being. Not all my friends and people I knew had families who did the same.
I learned that elderly people often share the loveliest and sincerest advice.
I learned that some of the best people shine from the most unexpected places.
I learned how to become comfortable with the feared and despised. Religion and medicine fall under these categories.
I learned that food really does bring people together.
I learned to appreciate my drives between Vassar and home. The lines between these worlds were both distinctive and blurred.
I learned that professors come in different shapes and flavors. Some change you unimaginably.
I learned how to quietly fight.
I learned that people consciously and unconsciously made assumptions about me.
I learned that I loved proving them wrong.
I learned to embrace my social status as a mother bear.
I learned how much I enjoyed running between the sciences and humanities. I could not have one without the other.
I learned that religion scares people because they don’t know how to talk or approach it.
I learned that pain is a part of life. But so is joy.
I learned to acknowledge my immense privilege.
I learned that I could be ashamed of such privilege or I could try using it productively.
I learned that laughter, chocolate and good company made everything feel better.
I learned that the days were long but semesters were eerily short.
I learned that looking people in the eye when you talk to them can change the turnout of a conversation.
I learned how to appreciate tea that wasn’t my traditional chai.
I learned that I have so much left to learn.
Vassar is an institution. And institutions are comprised of people. I know I will still grieve the community that touched and changed me in innumerable ways. But I know that the people who made Vassar so much of a second home will always stay with me in the future. To all of those I had the privilege of meeting and working with, thank you. To my closest circle of family and friends, I can’t imagine these past four years without you all by my side. It’s hard to express the extent of my gratitude. To the class of 2016: I don’t know all of you but I want to say just how proud I am of all of us and how far we’ve come. Here’s to moving forward in the next chapter. And to Vassar: thank you.
—Farah Aziz is a religion major heading to medical school this fall. She was involved in Generation, VCEMS (Vassar College Emergency Medical Services), VMSU (Vassar Muslim Student Union), RSL Forum, Ujima, and the Religion Department.