“Auld Lang Syne” isn’t just for New Year’s. It’s also for graduation.
Like Jan. 1, graduation is both an end and a beginning. My life as a student is ending and I’ll need to cultivate a new identity. I’m am not only parting with friends but leaving behind the common place that I have shared with those friends for four years. It’s a turning point and a time of uncertainty.
Moving from Maryland to Illinois as a freshman was an extremely challenging task, but I was relatively fine with saying goodbye to high school friends because we still shared a hometown – a physical location where it was all but guaranteed that we’d see each other again. The first time I ever had to say goodbye to friends with whom I didn’t share a guaranteed place for reconnection was at the end of my study abroad in Edinburgh last year. What helped me cope with those goodbyes was “Auld Lang Syne.”
During my time in Scotland I was introduced to the “real” tune for “Auld Lang Syne.” This was the tune that was originally associated with the lyrics when Scottish poet Robert Burns collected and edited the song in the 18th century. The first time that the Burns-edited lyrics were to be printed with its melody in George Thompson's 1799 collection of Songs of Scotland, Thompson rejected the original melody and opted to set the words to the tune of “I fee'd a lad at Michaelmas” instead. This ultimately became the more enduring tune for people around the world, but the original wasn’t lost.
I fell in love with that original tune in Edinburgh and it became a bit of an anthem for my time there. I made a lot of friends while abroad and saying goodbye to them was incredibly difficult because of the very real possibility that I would never see them again. When I returned to the States, “Auld Lang Syne” became a reminder of those friends and a small, everyday opportunity to toast them wherever they are in the world.
With graduation less than a month away, I’m facing the challenge of goodbyes again. I’m sad because the truth is that no matter how much I care about my friends, I will lose touch with some of them. That’s just how life works. We may share Evanston as another sort of hometown, but I doubt that we will return very frequently, or even at the same time. Down the road, we’ll have new friends and new distractions and be at peace with our drift apart, but right now, in this moment of saying goodbye, it hurts.
Not surprisingly, I’m taking comfort in “Auld Lang Syne” again. The song is clearly retrospective since “auld lang syne” roughly means “for old times’ sake,” but I ascribe a forward tilt as well. It’s my way of saying that even if I do lose touch with a friend, they will be remembered when I hear this song.