We live in a community with strong seasonal patterns that have nothing to do with weather. The seasons of this big university plopped down in the middle of the State College area defines much of what the patterns of life are like for all of us. Starting and finishing, coming and going are familiar movements. Those of us who work with students know there is a bittersweet quality to this time known as graduation.
Below are reflections from a few of the many preparing to experience a big change in their lives.
Emily Roarty: “In this time of transition, I’m feeling a strong sense of memories from some of the places on campus, and I also trying to enjoy the moment. I get so excited for my undergrad friends who still have one or more year left in Happy Valley. Even though I will be still working on a construction project in State College, I will be saying goodbye to good friends in my major and club.”
Aaisha Bhuiyan: “Thinking about graduation makes me feel all type of ways. I think of all those evenings my friends and I’d drive off to Bellefonte or catch up over Sadie’s (Gourmet Waffles). I think about all those Waffle Shop brunches and the Old Main bells. I think about late nights in the Knowledge Commons and that iced caramel macchiato to sustain my pre-exam breakdowns. And somewhere between all of that, I’m thinking about graduation and smiling. It’s hard to move on from something as great as this, but there is always something better, impatiently waiting for us to turn.”
Yara Alul: “As a graduating senior, change is inevitable but it seems like acceptance is not (at least to many seniors). Graduation is a confusing time, but it’s also a very exciting one. Leaving what has come to be my home is very bittersweet, and I frankly don’t think it’ll fully sink in until graduation day, if even. It feels like I’m about to open a door that’s been in front of me unopened for a long time, unsure and somewhat fearful of what’s inside but very curious and excited to find out. Penn State has taught me a lot, and I will always bleed blue and white, but I have gotten to a point where it’s time for a new challenge. Just like I made it as a 16-year-old who left home for the first time to live in a town in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, I am ready to embark on a brand new journey.”
Nate Pentz: “As I look toward impending graduation I am very surprised to have a very calm demeanor. Often I am not feeling very nervous or anxious about the future, spare small bursts of it that will happen occasionally. While losing the structure of school can be scary, I’m happy to be at the end of it and excited to find work and start applying myself in a different environment. I just hope to have a great impact wherever I may end up. After so many years of trying to plan out what the next step is going to be, I believe I’m trying to go more with the flow of things this time. I’ve always ended up where I wanted to be and I believe in myself to get there.”
Cameron Spiller: “The final days until my graduation are swiftly passing. Most of what I think about these past few days revolve around the legacy I’m leaving at Penn State in terms of academics and involvement. Did I do all that I could do? Did I take advantage of every opportunity? No. But, each day I have loved this community and its people. I protested alongside the oppressed, tutored some of the most challenging courses, mentored the young and gifted and sought to love strangers regardless of circumstance or condition. These experiences are what molded me and define who I am. I’m very grateful to have experienced four years at this university. I look toward the greater challenges and greater victories for me outside of here — whatever they may be.”
Megan Wesley: “The space I’m in right now is very bittersweet. I’m very excited to start on my journey of getting a job, doing something that I love and being able to stand on my own. But I’m also sad because I have to leave my school that has been a home for me for the past four years. I have met so many amazing people, done incredible things and accomplished a lot here at Penn State. I’ll miss the free time, learning in my classes and involvement in clubs. But I’m optimistic about the future and happy to start a new chapter.”
Max Schmid: “Looking forward to graduating would be more exciting without the pains and aches of Lionpath, which continues to wreak havoc on myself and fellow students. On a more positive note, I’m actually very excited to be graduating from Penn State Brandywine, where I saw that faculty and staff could actually care about me instead of being treated simply as a number. I have an immense gratitude for all those at Brandywine who have supported me in my academic endeavors — the true spirit of Penn State lives there.”
Brandon Benner: “The closer I come to graduation, the harder I find it to believe that I’ve come so far already. These past four years has gone by quicker than I could have imagined. I’m on the verge of becoming the first member of my family to receive a college degree. I’ll admit, I’m a little worried about the future — where I’ll live, whether I’ll be able to make ends meet for the first few years, things like that. I’ve never really lived outside of central Pennsylvania and it’s looking like I’ll be moving to either Maryland or farther south, so life beyond Penn State is going to be a shift for me. But if there’s one thing that’s foremost in my mind, it’s that I’m ready to get started. My life’s work will be to teach our fellow Americans about their heritage through the past, and nothing thrills me more than starting, into that work.”
Jess Hook: “There are a lot of mixed emotions surrounding graduation. Excitement, because I won’t have to take any more undergraduate classes. Sadness, because an era is coming to an end. Joy, because I don’t have to obtain any more formal education (I could potentially be taking my last final exam in fewer than 10 days). And uncertainty; will I find a job? Will I find a job I actually enjoy? Will I find a job I actually enjoy, that pays well? It’s impossible for me to pick on emotion regarding graduation, and I think that’s how a lot of my fellow classmates are feeling. I’m trying to stay open-minded, and remember things will all work out for the best. It’s not always easy, dealing with all of this ‘real person’ stuff, but I’m excited for the day I walk across the stage and complete my undergraduate education.”
Diana Malcom is the campus minister for Westminster Presbyterian Fellowship, a ministry of State College Presbyterian Church, and Ben Wideman is the campus minister for 3rd Way Collective, a ministry of University Mennonite Church. Both serve on the “Learning to Live: What’s Your Story” team.