Well, it’s official. I am a full-fledged member of the real world. Maybe it’s too soon to make the call, but five days post-cap-and-gown, not much seems different. Classes are over. Homework is done. Iowa City is emptying. There’s an abandoned bed in the dumpster of my apartment and an outside trash-bag radius that is exponentially expanding further and further outward. My roommates have gone home for the summer, and there’s all the room in the world for my food in the refrigerator now. I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix. It could be just any other summer. But part of me knows I’m in denial, or at least avoidance. The summer I’m imagining is the same sunny stretch I always think of, the slow heat, lightning bugs, thunderstorms; the idealized summer I will never let go of, no matter how old I get. But I don’t let my mind cross into fall, when my best friend and three-year roommate will be a Yale grad student rather than a Hawkeye. When the majority of amazing people I’ve met, gotten to know, and love dearly will not be returning for another year of Iowa City frolics. When there will be no new classes, no book lists, no need to buy new pens. When I will no longer be the Iowa Review intern.
Dang it. Now I’m thinking about it, and it’s making me weepy. This month has been a month of accomplishments and congratulations, but there’s no way around the fact that it is a month of endings. Nostalgia is as inevitable as applause.
At the graduation ceremony, our class speaker, John Komdat, talked about how graduation is a time when the past and the future meet at one moment, the present. I was enthralled with this idea because after spending the school year writing a thesis about time travel, my ears perk up at any mention of time; but the more I thought about what he said, the more I realized how creepily accurate it was in relation to my life. The day before graduation, John and I had been sat together in the "K" row for the Honors Commendation Ceremony and had our first extended conversation, even though I knew him from freshman year when we were both living on the Writing Floor in Stanley. There had been some head nods and half-waves during our four years, but talking to him and seeing so many other people I consider acquaintances from freshman year suddenly seemed to bring my college career full circle, a twist ending on the universe’s brilliantly constructed plot. In a single moment, we were awkward freshman and graduating seniors painfully aware of how uncool we had actually been back then.
The same thing happened at my goodbye party from the Iowa Review. I laughed at my jokes from my very first blog post (Intern Schrute, Assisant TO the Managing Editor—classic) and then had to answer that question that’s been haunting me ever since I declared my English major, except now it has mutated from “What are you going to do after you graduate?” to “What are you going to do now?” The staff and I were sitting there at Atlas, and I saw myself both as that scared sophomore who wandered into 302 EPB on a half-formed ambition and a fear of the future and as the mature (“mature”) present-tense me, still scared and still worried about the future but with some thin sprouts of a plan. What am I going to do now? This or that. Working. Saving. Writing. It’s not exotic. It’s not the Peace Corps or backpacking in Europe or moving to New York, but it’s enough for now, and if my internship with the Iowa Review shows anything, it’s that good things can’t always be planned. Sometimes they have to be stumbled upon.
The most comforting thing is seeing that what I did here at Iowa matters, that I’ve left something behind me and made at least a dent of a difference in the flow of the cosmos. I see it in the enthusiasm of my family and friends, my Iowa Review family, my professors, my coworkers. I see it in their reminiscing, the scenes they recall, the moments that they consider important. It’s a perspective we can’t have often, but when we do, we can see for miles. There is no better feeling than when people you admire greatly admire you back. Sometimes I get so focused on the unknown variables ahead that the past fades into obscurity—just checks on a To Do list. It takes a moment when the past and future line up to understand the significance of the journey—what we’ve done and what we will do running side by side. A river, so to speak. A moment in the present poised between nostalgia and uncertainty reveals just how much we’ve already done, which helps to counter that fearful open-endedness of the future, at least enough that we can continue to plunge ahead.
And with that, I guess I’ve come to the part where I have to say goodbye. Goodbye, Iowa Review! Goodbye, student-hood! Goodbye, goodbye and thank you.