Needless to say, this is not how I pictured my last quarter at Vassar.
The first time I visited campus, I sat beneath the saucer magnolia tree near Ely Hall and wrote in my journal, “This is where I want to be.” I sat there and envisioned what the next years of my life would be like. I thought that before I knew it, I’d be holding my diploma onstage in my graduation gown and cap.
My first winter at Vassar, I wrote in my journal, “It’s hard to love winter. You have to really actively try to love during winter.” And I did. I loved the crunch of the frozen grass and the way the snow sticks to the branches of the trees. I stepped off the path as often as possible to sink my Free-and-For-Sale Doc Martens deep into the snow. Everyone from home had warned me about the dreaded east coast winter. I had been bracing myself for the cold since I’d left California, and I tried my hardest to take pleasure in the cold wind that chapped my cheeks as I shuffled determinedly across the quad in February and March.
I was utterly unprepared for spring at Vassar. Suddenly I understood why poets write about spring. Suddenly I understood what spring really means: rebirth, renewal, rejoicing. The mass exodus from the library to the quad the first time the temperature surpasses 55 degrees. The return of color, yellow daffodils and blue sky and green grass. The birdsong. The blooming of the magnolia trees. There is nothing like spring at Vassar.
I didn’t know my last spring at Vassar would be my last spring at Vassar. When the pandemic is over, I do not have anything to go back to. There is no return for me. There is no period of sunshine and friends and bliss, there is no final opportunity to choose to be a child before beginning real adulthood. This week, I turned in my last paper. I closed both my laptop and the most meaningful chapter of my life with equal nonchalance.
When people learn that I took an accelerated course of study to graduate a year early, they assume I have a plan for post-grad life. They assume I didn’t want to be at college any longer that I had to. They assume my degree was my only goal. None of that was ever true, and now more than ever I feel completely directionless. With college stripped away to nothing but academics, I see more clearly than ever that it was all the things that won’t appear on my transcript that fulfilled me the most, those parts of my life I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to. Do I regret graduating early? It’s hard not to now. But there was no way to know that my time at Vassar would end like this, without the resurrection of spring.
Vassar, for all your faults, I love you. The next time I’m on campus I know I will be overwhelmed with the stress of packing up all my belongings and the nostalgia of all the memories and the grief over all the moments I lost. But I hope I can find a moment in my allotted 12 hours of move-out time to sit under a magnolia tree and feel at home again.
[Editor’s Note: The headline of this piece references the Mary Oliver poem, “Spring.”]