By: Negin Khodayari
I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was wearing a white ruffled t-shirt and baggy blue jeans. My hair was in short pigtails and I spent the whole day fidgeting with them worried people would think I looked like a kid. The air was hot as I nervously shuffled my way through the subway station during rush hour. Of course, I didn’t catch a seat and spent the next 45 minutes pressed between a crowd of sweaty bodies jammed together, breathing on each other as I tried to silence the pounding of my heartbeat in my ears — it’s hard to think I miss it.
I was on my way to first-year orientation. August 2018 — might as well be forever ago. In the blink of an eye, I went from a nervous freshman to a nervous 22-year-old about to graduate. I feel like nothing has changed, but if I look closely, everything has.
Courtesy of @jschoolnow on instagram
It’s hard to look back on the past four years fondly. When I think about my undergraduate experience, it’s tainted by nostalgia and heartbreak, as if I’m grieving the version of myself I dreamt of becoming before the world felt like it was going to end. Something you should know about be, I tend to be a bit dramatic.
I spent most of first-year trying to find a place where I felt like myself on campus, but it was hard to get over the culture shock of going from seeing the same people everyday for 12 years; to being in spaces where no one even knew my name. Luckily, I had my best friend by my side as we tried to make the kind of memories we’d want to tell our children — and boy did we try.
Making friends on campus when you have a two hour commute to school isn't easy. It felt like if you didn’t live in the dorms, you might as well be a stranger — everyone had already made their cliques and I was just late to the game. Though I wasn’t completely alone in my program, we made a little group of commuter journalism students pretty early on who helped each other through our six hour labs on Wednesdays. I was lucky to find them when I did, I’d hate to think of how much more stressful navigating this new program would’ve been without people who were going through the same thing.
Second year was off to a much better start — unlike how it ended. Cliques seemed less intimidating and everyone was more inviting and open with each other. Our projects relied on teamwork and everyone was working to build each other up. But the biggest change for me was when I finally found a place on campus that made me feel like I belonged: at my new job.
I applied for an on-campus job on a whim and out of frustration with my position as a sales associate at a luggage store (of all places). I never thought they’d accept me, as I didn’t have the experience, but I guess I did have the charm because here I am three years later still working there.
Three years. If you told me three years ago as I was walking into my interview that that day would determine what would end up becoming my biggest university experience, I don’t know if I’d believe you. I wouldn't believe all the people I got the chance to meet and all the characters I got to learn from. I wouldn't believe all the projects I was a part of and the trust people would have in me — the trust I would have in me.
When the world went into lockdown, my work never stopped. It kept me going and kept me busy. I don’t want to think about how much harder the first year of the pandemic would've been if I didn't have this constant in my life. Nothing else in my life, or the world, was the same anymore, but at least I still had tasks to complete and a meeting to attend every Tuesday.
I've been working non-stop for three years. I’ve met so many milestones and accomplished things I always hoped I would before graduating, but none of it feels real. None of it feels enough. I’ve maintained a high GPA, worked, gotten a dream internship. I’m an editor, I’m a writer, I’m published, but none of it feels tangible — when you fulfill all your dreams virtually, you might as well still be dreaming. I’ve gained everything by the click of a few buttons while sitting in my bedroom for two years. I wanted more.
I wanted more chances to reinvent myself before every introduction. I wanted more chances to meet new people and make new friends. I wanted more chances to feel good, and bad, about myself. I wanted to grow a little more every time I left my house. I wanted to have more classes in the movie theatre. I wanted to have classes in our TV studio and play with our equipment. I wanted to be on camera, not on a Zoom call. I wanted to show off my cute outfits and let everyone hear my laugh. I wanted to make people laugh. I wanted more.
Four years went by in the blink of an eye but I think I detached myself from school two years ago. I’ve been living in limbo since then. I’m numb to the fact that it’s all going to be over in a few weeks. It’s like I don’t even care, but that can’t be true. I care about everything, sometimes too much — it’s my biggest character trait. Well, I guess it’s already been over for a while, but now it’s just official.
I don’t want to be numb. I want to be able to look back on these years and see all that I accomplished. I want to look back and see the three years I worked at a job I loved. I want to see the first year and a half when my best friend and I tried to take the city by storm. I don’t want to be sad, but I don’t know how not to be. I don’t know how to start processing this. I don’t know how to really realize that it’s ending.
It’s ending. It’s ending. Maybe if I repeat it enough times, it’ll start to mean something to me.