Last weekend I returned to my alma mater for alumni weekend. It was the first time since I graduated nine years ago that I returned for any organized event or spent any time on campus. My husband, Drew, was a member of the college choir that celebrated its 75th anniversary this year, so it was in a way really his reunion. I went along for the ride, expecting to maybe run into a couple of old classmates, but not expecting much else.
In the end, the weekend inspired a bit of soul searching and nostalgia. My former classmates all looked exactly like they did nine years ago. This disturbed me, because when I look in the mirror I see wrinkles and lines that were not there before. I am possibly chubbier, but maybe a little better dressed than in college — I wear a lot less flannel anyway. I was also worried that somehow I wouldn’t measure up. I imagined that they were onto bigger and better things than I am, that they were happier, more accomplished, more together than I am. That fear was quickly put to rest: The girl who has the high powered corporate job seemed very sad and lonely; those who have kids seemed way too happy to be away from them for a weekend; and most of my classmates thought that my job sounded “cool.”
I had some time while Drew was rehearsing with the choir to sit on the steps of the theater building on campus and reminisce about my time as a college student. I didn’t expect that seeing campus — the buildings, the lawn, the cafeteria — would evoke such vivid memories that I thought were long gone. I suddenly remembered people I haven’t even thought of in years. I had sharp flashbacks of small events: of saying good night to a boyfriend under the arches of Cloister Hall; of realizing that I really want to be an English major in the middle of accounting class; of learning to drive in the parking lot of Lesher Hall; of opening my mailbox, hoping to find a red package slip in it; of sitting in the cafeteria with all of the other international students, drinking tea for long hours. All of these memories were accompanied by not just the visuals, but all of the sounds and feelings of those moments now long gone. I had goose bumps all weekend.
What was the most disturbing was to watch students — the class of 2010! — live and learn and grow in the places where I used to live and learn and grow. They seemed incredibly young and free and careless, and I was jealous. I’d like to think that places change because they have transformed me; that just like I am never the same, they too are forever altered. But that is not the case. While there might be a couple of new buildings on campus, the mood, the smells, the sounds of the school are the same as in 1998, when I left. I was jealous to think that now a new crop of students is experiencing this without me; that they still have a journey in front of them and that Cloister Hall doesn’t care that I was kissed there or that Good Hall can’t really appreciate the fact that I found my life’s calling in one of its classrooms. The buildings have moved on and I am stuck with memories.
As I said, it was a complicated weekend. I know that I am who I am because of everything that happened there — good and bad. I do miss that old life, but at the end of the weekend, I was ready to come home. I was also grateful that I could tuck away all of these memories on a remote Pennsylvania college campus for safekeeping.