I graduated from college this past Saturday amidst the mini-snowpocalypse that hit Kutztown. It was a moment that I was alternating between dreading and anticipating for the past four and a half years. So, like I’m sure every person who has ever fantasized about graduating, I was doing a mock graduation speech in my head.
You see, I had to sit through a few speeches on Saturday and since no one really gives a shit about Winter commencement (fun fact: commencement is the act of commencing according to my University President); I had more time to just zone out. For all intents and purposes, all the speeches were actually good. But of course, we have the same platitudes that are done in every speech. The go-getter who is determined you are inspired for greatness, the professor who has an engaging short story, and one that tries to be hip by going “I’m not going to talk about cliches” and then creates their own.
All of them were honestly great though. Maybe it was because it was my own graduation but I soaked in most of their words. Then I noticed that my ego or id was making its own quest for glory.
I would begin of course by making an ill-advised joke about Natty Ice or Pabst Blue Ribbon which would immediately start chuckles with one guy going “YEAH BRO” in the back. I would even lighten the mood by saying a PG-curse word like “ass” or “hell” or “damn” just to let everyone know that I’m just like them.
But you know….I don’t think I would. What really captivated me the most about all the speakers was the fact that they were giving their own Kutztown story.
College is a weird time in your life. It happens right when you are beginning to closely resemble your future adult self. You sometimes gain a few pounds (but I was a cross country runner so I stayed pale and rail thin), be able to grow facial hair, become jaded with heartbreak or realize that love is a real thing. You begin to see people that you knew from high school flame out due to partying, ambition or a bevy of other reasons.
You start to notice that high school is a distant memory even though it was less than a presidential term ago. You turn 21. So do your new friends and you realize that you are getting phased out in some manner. You hear songs on the radio and it reminds you of when they were overplayed on weekends as opposed to them being just annoying songs. Memories begin to age like a fine wine, getting better and not as realistic as you get older. Yes, you were the same miserable person then as you were know; you are just happy that you made it through.
Look. You aren’t going to find the cure for cancer or even the rhinovirus. Your mixtape won’t catch on. You are probably not going to be employed for a bit of time and when you find a job, then you might realize that its nowhere close to the major you chose. It doesn’t matter how hard you try sometimes, life turns out to be a constant losing battle and you begin looking for microcosms of personal success.
You are going to live paycheck to paycheck. I am going to hate my job and end up eventually going to bed at 10pm and wean myself off of TV Land reruns. I won’t be able to do what I did in college (stay up late and pound 15 miles on Sunday morning) anytime soon. Hell, I even had trouble feeling good on weekdays when I stayed up too late. You will realize that you complained about the dining hall, and while it sucked most of the time, you find out that you probably wasted an opportunity to have an unlimited supply of food at dinner.
You might have an office job. You only have a Kutztown education, its not exactly Harvard or Yale, and you are likely to hear people go “huh?” when you proudly announce your alma mater at first. You paid thousands upon thousands of dollars for you to basically tell people “oh, I’m like 20 minutes outside of Allentown or Reading” which aren’t exactly burgeoning metropolises. So then you’ll carefully edit it to say “Eastern Pennsylvania, 45 minutes or so outside of Philly” and that will be that.
That’s not say you will be ashamed of being a Golden Bear, but you will realize that those personal memories are just that.
I have thought to myself, what I would tell people about my graduation. I think the fact is, we will be normal members of society. A few of us might actually do pretty damn well for ourselves. A few will sadly do very poor. Most of us though will be in the middle, just surviving and hoping for a slight raise or an easy mortgage.
Its unfair to talk about greatness. My Dad doesn’t have a great job. He hasn’t had one in about six years now. But he worked unruly hours for way too little pay just so I could go to college. That’s greatness to me.
What is great though is the fact that we are leaving. It was never pretty. You wanted to transfer. You wanted to quit. You wanted to then change yourself and work harder before you found a happy medium. But most importantly, you got by. Just like how you will likely due in life. Just like how you might’ve put off an injury or two just so you could compete.
But dammit, we are done. That is upsetting but we are the lucky ones.
We have the memories that other schools don’t have.
No one knows what its like to see the hell hole that is Kutztown, a town with basically one way in and out, on move-in day. No one knows about the letdown that is Bear Fest. No one knows what its like to have a Homecoming King and Queen that barely anyone knows on campus or why the most beautiful building on our campus is marred because it looks like a pissed off chicken. No one knows what its like that the biggest thing that’s happened here as of late is Rob Schneider doing stand-up.
No one knows how good a slice of Mama’s Pizza tastes at 1am or a burnt pretzel from Pretzel Rev at any hour of the day. No one knows that only townies hang out at Basin Street or Camillo’s and Uncle Joe’s, while great, is probably doomed. No one knows the feeling of taking a date out to Pop’s or being an outsider at a party. No one knows that feeling of finally being off campus.
Each college has its own local jokes. But we have ours. We have our memories. The best part about them is that we won’t forget them and the even best part is that there is a high schooler out there who just got their acceptance letter and has no idea what is ahead of them. Please, incoming Kutztown freshman; give it a whole year no matter what. Be pissed off that your friends Facebook albums look better than yours, be pissed that they forgot about you but you WILL end up happy eventually.
The cycle continues. We had our ride, but now we just have to get off. Our tab is being closed, only to be reopened on special occasions in which its great to see everything again but deep down you realize; its just not the same. You now have new worries. Maybe its a fiance or a job or just a trip back.
But it won’t be the same. Which is what makes life so sad, depressing, joyous, triumphant and amazing all at the same time. There will be breakdowns, there will be sadness but there will also be new doors opening in that you might get married, have a kid, get a promotion, and realize that even if you aren’t having fun right now; there is SOMEONE out there who is realizing that myKU isn’t the greatest thing and that flex dollars will waste away quickly.
That’s the ideal life. There will be someone, a future athlete, discovering that they love Rod and Gun but hate that damn hill. Or dreading the next workout. But you know they will be laughing. Your bubble might be close to bursting at times, but others will be swelling.
I spent so much time idealizing and romanticizing my freshman year that I almost lost my sophomore and junior year because of it. I just couldn’t adapt without those old friends around.
But you know what….I’m glad to have made it.