Nostalgia is alive and well in my veins this morning. Two years ago today, on May 17, 2011, I graduated from Washington & Jefferson College. Sometimes it feels like only yesterday that my friends and I graduated, and sometimes it feels like half a lifetime has passed. For the past few days, my Twitter and Facebook feeds have been inundated with updates from my fellow young alumni who are heading back to our alma mater this weekend for the College’s 214th Commencement ceremony.
To put it lightly, jealousy is right behind nostalgia as my prevalent emotion. I’d give just about anything to be standing along the sidewalk of Wheeling Street with a few members of the Class of 2011 as the Class of 2013 walks by us in their black robes. And I hate that I’m missing Homecoming this autumn for the second year in a row. I am not at all one of those people who leave behind their university once they graduate. That place was my home for four years, and it left its mark.
I’ve only been back to W&J’s campus once since I’ve graduated. During a quick five-hour visit this past winter, I reconnected with a few professors and saw some friends that I hadn’t seen since graduation. I wandered around the same buildings in which I’d learned about Romanticism, the respiratory system, German verb tenses, and Japanese social constructs. It completely felt like I had come home (to my home away from home) again, but I couldn’t help but feel out of place. It’s amazing how a place can still feel so utterly familiar and so completely foreign at the same time. I barely recognized any of the faces roaming around campus, but still remembered which mailbox had been mine.
Lest I sound like someone who’s wishing to relive her college years and lamenting just how awful “the real world” is, that’s not at all the case. Being an adult totally rocks. Time flies when you’re having fun, they say, and that’s definitely part of the reason that the past two years have passed so quickly for me. The things I’ve accomplished, the places I’ve gone, and the ways in which I have changed have made for two of the best years of my life thus far. I am far more content, both in my surroundings and in my own skin, than I was when I crossed the stage to accept my diploma.
In so many ways, I am better than the person I was. I am healthier (If you’d told me two years ago that I’d be running five miles and happily eating spinach salads for lunch every day, I’d have sent you for an MRI), happier, more emotionally stable, and more independent. Last month, I paid off the very last of my student loans. I know how to draw up a budget (and stick to it), can successfully make étouffée, chicken tikka masala, and a whole host of other foods that aren’t grilled cheese or instant ramen, and can even fix my own toilet in a pinch. I almost always look forward to going to work in the morning. The past two years have been good both to and for me.
And yet, I still can’t help but sometimes yearn for the hallowed days of W&J.
I have a bulletin board that hangs in the kitchen of my apartment. One of the first things I did upon moving to Japan was to tack up pictures of my friends and family. The more quickly I filled my apartment with the familiar, I reasoned, the more quickly it would become home. A fair share of those pictures are from graduation and the week that preceded it. Those pictures have stayed there, firmly pinned, for the past two years, and I’ve never once felt the need to replace them, despite the fact that my graduation gown and honor cords are gathering dust in a closet back home. I don’t think of it as living in the past or keeping the past alive past its usefulness. Rather, it’s a reminder of what and who I left behind and will – hopefully – be able to go back to eventually.
I’m sad to say it, but I’ve lost touch with a few of the people in those pictures. For several of them, I haven’t spoken to them more than a handful of times in the past two years, and even then, it’s only been through emails and quick Skype sessions. I hate that, because I’d – perhaps naïvely – assumed that we’d keep touch through it all, even when separated by seven thousand miles and a thirteen-hour time difference. (Time differences, incidentally, are the worst thing ever. I wish we could all just magically live in the same time zone. Either that, or someone needs to invent a working TARDIS, stat.)
But even though I’m a continent and an ocean away and I haven’t matriculated there for two years, I still consider myself a President. Whatever the distance, be it in miles or years, W&J will always be one of my homes. Days like this, when I’m wishing I could lounge away the warm May afternoon in the Adirondack chairs on the lawn in front of Old Main with my friends, just remind me of that fact more vividly than others.