©2019 THE SMILE PROJECT

December 16th 2015

December 16, 2015

I am sitting in a nearly empty college issued dorm room, feeling like I just moved in. I remember the first time I walked up the creaky steps of the house we would come to call ours and looked at the slanted ceilings that left us with limited potential furniture arrangements. It seems like it was just yesterday that I placed two photo frames beside two cards and one battery operated alarm clock on a dresser that I had just filled with tank tops, shorts, and sweaters. On top of the dresser now is just my water bottle sidekick and a stack of smile project business cards. The bulletin board that is built into my college issued desk is empty of the cute notes that once decorated it and I’m regretting unplugging my lamp as I seem to have forgotten how bad the lighting is in this room.

 

I feel like I’ve just moved into college. It is my freshman year and I’ve arrived early, a few days before my roommate. My bed is made and my closet is full. Her bed is an empty blue cot. Only it isn’t my freshman year. After 3.5 years of living together, my roommate has moved all but a few pillows and toiletries out. In an hour, I will begin the process as well.

 

Today is December 16th, 2015 and I am done with college.

 

I spent the weekend before this frantically finishing projects and papers in an attempt to get the most out of the remaining week of Finals. Because of a schedule comprised entirely of writing courses and one speech class, I had no tests to panic over and no real fear about what would happen in the coming days.

 

Today is December 16th 2015 and I just took my last final.

 

Of course when I say I took my last final, I mean my 10-person class went to my professor’s house for lunch. We talked about our hometowns and our pets and all kinds of simple memories that make people happy. With that, I was done.

 

Finished. Concluded. Over. Ended. Completed. Finalized. Done.

 

Just like that, three and a half years of my life had flown by and I was done with my imperfectly beautiful Westminster College. When I first found out I could graduate early, I was ecstatic. It was the obvious choice and I do not regret it at all. However, I had no idea how it would feel. Everyone talks about the transition from high school to college and simply assumes that by the time you are ready to leave college, you are completely ready for that transition. Here’s a secret: I’m not.

 

People keep asking me a lot of things about leaving. First is the “are you ready to graduate?” Well, is anyone really ready for anything? I’m not sure there will ever be a perfect time to leave this campus that has come to be home. I will never not marvel at the sun’s reflection on the lake or the way the wind dances between the aging windows of Old Main. I will always be amazed at the way I feel comfortable enough to leave my computer in the library unattended for hours or how a professor I’ve never had for class has come to be a mentor and a friend. I will forever remember how it felt to fall in love with a community, a college, a person, and a life.

 

Westminster College gave me all of that. If I waited until I was ready to leave, I’m not sure I’d make it very far. But life isn’t meant to be lived within the moss covered stones. Westminster College gave me encouragement to believe I could live beyond.

 

When I say the school encouraged me, I mean the people I have met here have showed me a world that I was blind to before. They have opened my eyes and allowed me to see things in new ways. They have given me a kind of confidence that has made me believe in the impossible. They have taught me to believe in my dreams.

 

Am I ready to leave a place that has taught me so much? I suppose the answer is, “not at all.” And that, then, is exactly why I am. Staying here would be a risk of comfort and Westminster College has taught me to reach beyond that. It is for that reason that I know I am ready and prepared for whatever comes next.

 

The other question, that I received only once but has stuck with me since, was when a friend looked at me and asked, “so do you feel educated?”

 

Do I feel educated? Well, three and a half years of a college education later and I better feel educated.

 

I couldn’t answer right away, and in fact, looking back, I’m not sure I actually answered at all. But here’s what I would have said earlier if I could have found the words:

 

I feel educated in the art of communication—not because it is my major, but because I have learned to connect with people who live very differently than I and those are some of the friendships I cherish the most.

 

I feel educated in the science of reasoning—not because of my science general education course but because I have learned to manage my time and my sanity so as not to overwork myself into stress.

 

I feel educated in the language of learning—not because of any academic course I have taken, but because I know that sometimes the best education takes place outside the classroom.

 

I feel educated in life because I have fallen in love with the combined ideology of all of my powerful influencers, people who have taught through action and encouraged me in silence.

 

 

Today is December 16th, 2015 and after my final, I hugged the writing professor who I have taken four of my six minor courses with. She told me she loved me and encouraged me to keep in touch. I could barely choke out the promise that I would. And I hadn’t cried yet.

 

I hadn’t cried until, as I was leaving my campus center with my last school dinner, I ran into one of my best friends. I told him I was en route to write this blog and we began to talk as we walked to my room. He stepped in for a moment and I opened the container of General Tso’s Chicken to let the steam roll out.

 

I just love rice.

 

I said, as I stirred the sauce across the broccoli. And then I started to cry.

 

It’s going to sound stupid. But you always make rice and you love rice and I just realized, I’m never going to sit in your apartment again while you make rice.

 

I pulled myself together but the idea is still there. True, I may not find myself in the same town apartment that I became so used to frequenting. I may not go on the same walk to Rite-Aid and Sheetz runs might be different without my roommates. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Because the next time we all meet, we will be coming with new experiences and new stories to share.

 

I was paying for my dinner after saying goodbye to my friends that work in food service when the manager came back over. I had already forced my sentimental heart into a hug and he had said his goodbye. As I was handing my Titan card to a worker who had become like a school mother to me and my friends, the manager returned and said something along these lines:

 

You are going to go on a thousand adventures in your life. Seriously, this is just one of many adventures. I felt this way when I was leaving the army, but think of all the new things you are about to see and experience. This is just one moment. You’ve got thousands more ahead of you.

 

I bit my tongue hard to keep back tears and nodded silently for a few moments. He was exactly right. The idea of leaving this place puts of physical lump in my throat. I can feel my eyes brimming with emotion as I type. But maybe all that means is that I am ready.

 

I could not have met a finer group of educators who cared for and encouraged me at every word. I could not be around better friends who fought for and supported me every step of the way. I could not have been to a better institution that believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself.

 

Westminster College, saying thank you isn’t enough. You have directed the course of my life and put me on a track more positive, ambitious, and exciting than I could have ever imagined. You’ve given me perfect memories and forever friends and for that I am grateful. I know that this may be the most scattered blog to date, but it is the best I could pen right now and even that, I know, will do just fine.

 

To everyone who, in recent weeks has experienced a major life change: breathe. It’s just a new adventure.

 

So thank you… to everyone who made the past three and a half years one hell of an adventure.

 

Love always,

Liz

 

 

 

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