During the last few weeks leading up to graduation weekend, my friends kept asking one another, “So, let’s talk about how I’m not feeling anything about leaving UNC. Is it just me? Has it hit any of you yet?” They shook their heads and said, “I feel nothing.”
It wasn’t until the end of April that the tears started to come. NC Fellows, that phenomenal and indescribable leadership program I’ve talked about in previous posts, hosted a final banquet for all the senior Fellows – my class. Each senior was expected to give a farewell speech, a word of motivation and advice for the younger Fellows and a blurb about what Fellows meant to him or her.
|Only half of the nerds – I mean Fellows – in my class are present here. The other half of them are…pursuing Quality, I hope. (Original photo by Ananda Day)|
Being the wordy, rambling writer that I am, I wrote out a love-letter-slash-poem about my Fellows experience. My speech was far (FAR, far far) from being even remotely close to, say, a J.K. Rowling masterpiece, but somehow it hit all the right (or wrong) heartstrings. One of my close friends came to me afterward and said I’d ruined her streak of “feeling nothing” all semester, that the reality of things was finally dawning on her. Another friend told me he’d avoided my eyes the whole time I was reading my speech because he thought he would break down the moment he looked at me.
I won’t share the whole thing with you because it’s two pages long, but here is a passage from my speech that can not only be said about Fellows, but college in general:
“There are no words for the barriers that will threaten your comfort zone, the safe bubbles that will eventually begin to break, and the incremental moments when you’re sitting in the dark and you confront the same question over and over: Who am I?”
They say college is about finding yourself – creating your identity. I still remember how panicked, lost and utterly confused I felt back in January. I didn’t know if the internship I have now at china.org.cn was going to work out. My plans for graduate school were undefined – nonexistent, even. And the little regrets of not doing this or not doing that during my earlier years in college began to pile up in the back of my mind like crumpled to-do lists.
But then it stopped. The fear and anxiety just went away (at least for the time being, and it wasn’t always like that). It wasn’t because I had everything figured out (lolz). I just stopped caring so much about the future and started focusing on the present situation, because I realized that in a few months, my friends and I would no longer be at UNC.
I started spending as much time as I could with these people who had helped define my college experience. I tried to look forward to the summer without freaking out over the details too much, even though the prospect of living in Beijing secretly terrified me. Other aspects of my personality changed, too. I stopped doing things for the purpose of conforming to societal expectations or because certain activities were seemingly necessary for a meaningful college experience (like climbing the UNC bell tower). I did things for my own happiness and personal satisfaction. I went out for drinks only if I wanted to. I studied really hard for exams and finally reached my ultimate GPA goal – not for my parents’ sake, but for my own.
As a writer, I’ve also changed. In the past, I would shield my opinions from others in the name of objective journalism. But now, I am less afraid of offending whichever party is against my stance and more terrified of not being a part of movements I care about. I’ve spoken up about issues of skinny-shaming and using gender neutral language in relationships. I’ve written about the intimacy of teen romance and sex in YA literature and curated a “Digital Detox” series to promote discussion about how technology helps – and hinders – our everyday relationships.
Journalism isn’t just about truth for me anymore. It’s about the communication of ideas and viewpoints, even the ones we don’t want to acknowledge. I want to be a writer because writing – good writing – sparks a connection between different people and helps create a sense of unity and compassion in a world that sometimes feels too large.
For some people, the end of college hits them – as Florence Welch would say – “like a train on a track.” For others, it comes in waves, alternating between numbness and overwhelming emotion. For me, it just sunk in slowly over time, so subtle that it was barely noticeable until graduation weekend when I sat with the people from my NC Fellows class at commencement, listening to Dr. Atul Gawande give his speech and singing “Hark the Sound.” It was like any other weekend, except that it was also our last one together. I miss them.
|I’m a big kid now – I mean, adult.|
And so here I am now, living and working in Beijing until the end of July. I’m calmer and more focused on my career than I’ve been in months. That’s not to say I don’t have any worries, fears or doubts about the future. Even now, there is still so much uncertainty surrounding my career choice and where I’ll end up in the next five years or even next fall. But I know enough about myself now to be able to stand up for my strengths and my values, to embrace the goals I set for myself and to be able to move forward.