In 2015, five lives were compacted and packed into cardboard boxes in the back of a U-Haul truck. I remember the screened-in porch, the pine tree leaning over a slate roof, and the small garden of hydrangea skeletons and naked sticks where we used to play. Dark, empty windows reflected the warped image of my sisters and me shrugging off our backpacks to hug the neighbors goodbye.
We left everything familiar behind: the bus stop next to the Family Video, Pa Jolly’s ice cream parlor, the playground with the trees I liked to climb. On the passenger seat next to me was something of a parting gift: a brightly-colored Christmas tin filled with assorted cookies and photographs — but it also held the naive visions of summer visits and a promise to keep in touch. I waved at the neighbor girl and her younger brothers as the tires of our rental truck crackled over slick spots and pulled out of the driveway. I was sad to leave my childhood home behind, but I smiled as we drove away, thinking of all of the new memories I would make.
Eight years and seven semesters of college later, I think about when my family moved from Ohio to Upstate New York a lot. I think about the fact that I wasn’t scared. I was excited to live in a new place, to make new friends and to start at a new school.
Now, with graduation drawing ominously near, I’m absolutely terrified to face newness again.
This is because I recently came to the uncomfortable realization that I cannot predict the future. I don’t know what comes after switching the tassel over to the left and tossing my cap. This is the first time the next step in life isn’t predetermined, and as someone who isn’t a long-term planner, the autonomy of post-grad life is incredibly intimidating.
What will I do when there’s no more “see you next semester’s,” no more Celsius-fueled all-nighters during finals week, and no more sharing a home base with the people I love most?
What if I can’t find a job? Where do I go after this? What do I do next overall?
I know from empathizing with other seniors, I’m not the first to be anxious about the future. This sense of dread surrounding a college graduate’s emergence into the real world seems to be fairly common.
Given that my class received drive-by or Zoom diplomas after finishing high school in 2020, this will be our first time actually graduating — which is also scary, new and different. The only certain thing at this point is that I can’t wear pajama pants to this graduation.
Everything will be new again in a few months, and while that is daunting, I’m trying not to get too caught up in these worries. I try to stay present, meditate on my current situation and convince myself I’m excited about the newness, just like I was when I moved back in 2015.
On moving day, we stopped by my grandparents’ farmhouse in Huron, Ohio. We planned to eat lunch, hand over our 10-year-old goldfish (who we didn’t think could take the six-hour drive), and say goodbye for a while.
At the end of our visit, my grandmother pulled me aside and handed me a blue, pocket-sized moleskine journal with a dust cover that she had written on with marker. It said, “for your moving feelings.” She told me to write about my new school, new friends, new house, and anything I felt or thought concerning the transition.
That happened to be the last time I ever saw my grandmother. So, I decided to follow through with journaling about the newness of the move. I came to think of journaling as recording my thoughts as they fluidly moved through my head — instead of relating everything I wrote to the physical move from one state to another.
I filled that first notebook pretty quickly, and I have filled several more with my “moving feelings” in years since. Journaling creates a sort of archive for all the special, little moments I don’t want to forget.
And it helps me to be more present, instead of being scared of the future.
With the newness that lurks beyond convocation making everything feel uncertain, I’m reminded of that little blue book and I’m prompted to give myself space to reflect. I think about how my feelings have moved in the last few years of college, how much I’ve adjusted to in life already, and I think about how much I’ve grown as an individual.
As I reflect, I’m also trying to deeply note what’s happening in my surroundings more so than I have before. I try to zoom in on all the little details: the way my friends laugh in the dining halls, the way the leaves change and fall on the sidewalk of the Front Lawn, and late nights in the newsroom.
The cover letters, graduate school applications and loans will all be there waiting when I’m armed with my diploma and ready to face them. For now, I will try to be present and embrace the possibilities for reflection that come with newness.