When I graduated and left Evanston in December, I never thought I would look back. I was, yes, nervous, but excited, to move forward to the job that came next in Washington, D.C. As I began life in a new city, a city without the icy sludge that Evanston calls winter, I surprised myself with how quickly Northwestern became a memory.
It became harder and harder to empathize with friends who were still at NU. It was hard to feel close to the struggle of getting to class at 8 a.m., or the same frustration with administration. My new job seemed all-consuming, and life seemed bigger than anything that existed within the microcosm of school. I felt newly alone, so I began to journal meticulously, investigating every aspect of my life other than my experiences at Northwestern.
Then COVID-19 sent me back home.
I now find myself in the same situation as many of my friends and other graduating seniors. We’re waiting out the uncertainty of entering into the worst recession in decades, under our parents roofs or alone in apartments. This, combined with the renewed conversations about racial justice and defunding the police, have left me feeling reflective on the past 3.25 years I didn’t want to process.
Here’s what this forced reflection has taught me:
What I’ll remember from this moment, more than the purple and white, are the Facetime calls with my small group of friends to congratulate each other. I’ll remember the crying conversations about the uncertainty of the world and the deep talks about where we go next in this moment. I’ll remember gathering on Animal Crossing to celebrate our graduation, marveling at how my friend’s island has transformed for this moment. I’ll remember moving back into my childhood home for the summer. I’ll remember watching my parents say how proud they are, before putting a mask on to work for the day. I’ll remember scrolling through Twitter to find updates about protests and how I could help. I’ll remember the sadness of the everyday.
The thing I’ve realized is that life is unforgiving in moving on after graduation. The student loans stay, and so do the friends, but really, there’s so little in the day-to-day that ties you to the school that consumed the last ~4 years of your life. I feel wildly privileged to have attended and graduated from a university like Northwestern. It’s given me class mobility I never expected and opportunities that have heightened my impostor syndrome. But I’m also realizing that what is most salient in the everyday is not the name or the institution, but the discomfort it made me get used to living in.
It’s the moments that exist not because of, but oftentimes in spite of Northwestern, that changed me. In this moment, it’s not my relationship with the university that I celebrate, but the perseverance that pushed me through it, and the hope that our generation makes it better for the next.