Austin always asks me why I keep so much shit. I’ve been a hoarder since I knew I had the choice, and frankly it’s not one of my favorite personal traits. In my final days at college, however, I found reason to appreciate such a weakness.
I’ve always wondered why (for both me and presumably for others) it’s so hard to throw things away. I know I won’t lose the memory of my graduation or of the first day of O-Week if I do without saving my gown or lightning bolt nametag. Holding these memory-ambassadors in my hands could never evoke the feeling I held on those days more accurately than could a conversation with an old friend. But then there are the feelings from briefer moments – conjured up by a poster from that party where you found an unused drink card on the floor, or a sticky note your neighbor left for you on your door in Scheps when she had leftovers in the fridge. With these moments, the fear of losing a memory by disposing of its representative is what has led me to hold on to the item even years after the event.
As I cleaned out my room I started to understand one of life’s simpler lessons: you can’t keep everything forever. I dutifully disposed of menus from National Nights, broken zip-ties pulled from dining hall chairs, orange and green lanyards from long before the time of the handy blue wristband, and hosts of other items fastened just weakly enough to college memories that I felt compelled to hold onto them for three years. And though I thought freeing myself of these extra milligrams would eliminate any opportunity to relive these memories, I realize now that there may be more to these moments than just the act of remembering them. In my time at IH, I learned so much from such seemingly meaningless encounters; even the simplest of conversations brought about the most significant of lessons…
I loved (and still love) IH, and I was so lucky to be in a position where I could put that love to good use (and even so, I know I can never give back more to this college than I gained from being a part of it). I do not want this article – what I might deem my final contribution to this college as a student – to lack a “message” amongst what is mostly an incomplete and emotional collection of mumbo-jumbo and retrospect, so here it is: there is not one right way to love this college. There is not one person that makes this place better than any other person does. It doesn’t matter if you play sport, you study all day, or you make sure Kevin the possum (or the minion) gets his daily feed – we all live here, we all breathe, and through some magical entropic process we add value to our home.
Of course I’m going to tell you to get to know as many different kinds of people as possible while you’re at IH, I think at this point that goes without saying. Though being friends with everyone would certainly be ideal, what might be more important is keeping in mind that, when you don’t get the chance to know someone well, there will most certainly be reasons and motivations for their behavior that you do not understand. If you feel negatively about someone, try and recognize whether you’re actually thinking about that person, and not just about yourself. Within every country there are several evolving cultures – never mistake one part of a culture for the whole thing. At the end of the day, every peer, every stranger, every friend is just a person with a life, and a childhood, and maybe a dream.
This place is only at its best when every group is attended to, and to make sure that happens, you have to give people a chance. Don’t be deceived by superficial measures of success. Granted, there is nothing wrong with putting on a play that sells out every night, or captaining a championship team, but you must remember these sorts of classifications are red herrings that hinder progress. Don’t accept standards somebody else set for you. Let someone fresh turn an event on its head, and even if they run it and fail at least the individual will have learned from the experience, and everyone ought to have that chance while they are here.
IH is unique; there is no other place like it in the world. You spend a few years in this hyper-reality, learning things you need to know but cannot learn easily while planted firmly in reality. It’s always harder to tell how tall a mountain is when you’re standing in the middle of it. So instead of wasting time worrying about your job, or your future, or the peak of that mountain, try just to enjoy your life. Find a balance between not taking yourself too seriously and making people take your seriously. Don’t be as concerned with abstractions of right and wrong as you are with how to fix reality. Most importantly, remember that you don’t get these years back.
Now that I feel this article has fizzled into a right mess, I think there might be one way of pulling it back together into one semi-coherent train of thought: the memories that you make here, and the feelings that you keep therein, shape your understanding of the world. It’s like a photo mosaic – it is nearly impossible to see all of the individual photos in detail, but it’s very easy to see the person or image they construct as a whole. Even if discarding keepsakes makes it harder to remember each moment, they still make up a part of your uniquely complete identity. As good ol’ Mother Theresa once said, “People will forget the things you said, they’ll forget the things you did, but they’ll never forget the way you made them feel”. Truth is, you don’t have to keep every event poster or every high table nametag to make a feeling last.
Over three years I have learned so much, and a lot of it from the most unsuspecting characters. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you – students, staff, friends, family, Brian – for making my time at IH so special, and for helping me understand how to make this college a better place. As much as I’ve learned, there’s still so much I have yet to experience. But then again, sometimes it’s more important to look for questions than for answers (you’ll certainly leave college with more of the former than you came in with). Hence, I feel it more appropriate to end with an ironic inquiry that I hope you, rather than search for its answer, come to understand one day soon: Might you open your heart to difference and confusion for just a few years so you may live with coherent direction for a lifetime?