Saying goodbye has never been something I have been comfortable with.
I painstakingly remember on New Year’s Eve in sixth grade, running to a lime green-painted bedroom after watching the ball drop with my family, bawling my eyes out at the fact that it was 2011, indicating I’d soon be graduating elementary school. As silly as it might sound, it was then that I realized I had a wildly strong sentimental side of me, much fiercer than that of my peers. To give them credit though, we were still only 11- and 12-year-olds.
As I got older, the goodbyes and transitions didn’t come any easier.
Moving through phases of my life, I gained and lost relationships and experiences, as most of us do, although each ending was still painful regardless of how much or little I admitted it.
I struggled the summer before coming to Lehigh to wrap my head around leaving the only home I had ever known and the community I had built therein. There are still days when it hurts to think about the fact I said goodbye to my ever-so-coveted athletic career for good. A part of me has yet to come to terms with the fact that certain seasons of my life have ended regardless of how much time has passed.
Approaching the idea that I will soon have to say goodbye to my time at Lehigh scares me and at times leaves me overwhelmed with grief. Although I’ve known and been reminded of the fact that graduation is just around the corner, that scared 12-year-old version of myself, stricken with the harsh reality that there’s no way to stop us from getting older, is still deep inside me an entire decade later despite all the phases of young adulthood I’ve endured since.
Something I didn’t realize 10 years ago was just how difficult it can be to tap into that more vulnerable side of yourself the older you get.
At each difficult turn I’ve faced, I grew colder and found myself becoming increasingly pessimistic. I’d be quick to judge others on their least admirable qualities, was overly competitive with my peers and myself, had difficulty trusting the people closest to me and had turned into someone I’d always tried so hard to avoid becoming.
It’s said our memory operates like a highlight reel, reminding us only of the best parts of our past, leaving out what we don’t wish to hold onto. I’m rather guilty of the opposite; unfairly defining myself by what I’ve failed at and forgetting the more admirable pieces of myself.
In conjunction with the fact that being vulnerable is seen as being weak or overly emotional, generationally speaking, we have been stigmatized to believe it is a bad thing to be raw and honest in how you feel, or to share those feelings with others.
While I am known to love a really good sad song or memorable “deep” quote, I struggled to express my most authentic self to everyone around me. Even around my best friends, family and mentors, I always felt the need to keep it together, wrapping my existence up into a pretty little box with perfectly folded corners and a bow on top.
You can blame my Type A personality, the need to constantly be marketing that I’m always having “the best time ever!” on social media, or my self-made definitions of perfection, but as I grew up and was supposedly becoming wiser, the more challenging it was for me to rip that metaphorical wrapping paper away.
Something I’ve come to realize is that while opening up the more private parts of your life can be difficult, if you’re lucky enough to have the right friends who understand you on a cellular level, it won’t have to be. I’m fortunate that after eight semesters, I have fostered incredible, meaningfully rooted friendships throughout my time here.
That’s not for lack of failed relationships, though. Something that took me a while to realize is that not everyone you make connections with shares the same values as you; but as cliche as it sounds, it makes the people in your life that do all the more special and worthwhile.
Last semester after a tearful final senior seminar class, my professor and advisor who has been avidly impactful on my Lehigh experience tweeted a thread about one’s growth throughout college. He wrote: “Don’t think of college as a place where you go to get a degree in X. It sounds touchy-feely, but if you do four years and don’t emerge a changed, thoughtful, somewhat humbled person I would submit you’ve done it wrong.”
As I’ve come to enjoy a semester of “lasts,” I know I will be nostalgic for so many aspects of the Lehigh and Bethlehem communities. Simultaneously, I am confident there’s much good to come in what lies ahead. Along with being humbled and forced out of the comfort zones you once retreated to, I’d argue that if you feel prepared to take on the world by the time graduation rolls around, you’ve probably done something right.
This past year, I spent the first New Years Eve since that fateful sixth grade sob-fest back at home with my family. But when the clock struck midnight, I didn’t find myself bursting into tears because of the changes ahead. Yet if I had, I don’t think I would have forced myself to hold back either.
Graduating from a school I’ve come to love so deeply, moving out of my childhood home yet again and embarking on a truly adult life, albeit different, doesn’t instill quite the same panic as starting middle school did—although you could argue the stakes are quite a bit higher this go-around. It’s important to remember that you don’t grow where you’re comfortable. College is only four years for a reason.
I’ve also come to terms with the fact that no phase of your life will ever be idyllic, and neither will anyone else’s. How things look versus how things are in private are vastly different, which I’m guilty of forgetting and assuming everyone else has it more “together” than I do. What’s behind the metaphorical wrapping paper is what’s genuine.
It’s all the more important to share that with those who matter to you most. As long as you are satisfied with your inner state and circles, it shouldn’t matter how it looks from the exterior. Only you know what that feels like and it’s important to keep that top of mind.
To say I feel grateful for what these last four years have taught me about myself would be the biggest understatement I’ve ever made. These experiences have shaped me in ways I am still coming to understand. While no goodbye is ever easy, I choose to focus on the memories, lessons learned and relationships that will stick with me as I embark on the next chapter.
Madeleine Sheifer is a Managing Editor of Editorial Content for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]