To all who share in the loss of what would have been

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Photo courtesy of the University of Dallas

As we move into the final week with virtual convocation, senior TGIT, student leadership awards, finals and what would have been our graduation weekend, we are being signaled to realize: this is the end. What do we make of an end that doesn’t feel like the end? We have completed our finals and submitted our last assignments, but still, graduating doesn’t feel real. 

I talk about graduation like it isn’t happening, but it is. It has been rescheduled for October 18th, but even then, it won’t be the same. The administration has put in so much effort into making sure that we can have our graduation day, but I know that not everyone is going to be able to be there. I don’t know if International travel will be safe then, so I have no way of knowing if I’ll have that experience. 

So, you may ask, what do I want to write about now? Well, where do I begin?

I suppose I should start with this: Why was graduation so important to us? 

It was more than just a celebration of our achievements. It was our last moment, our last opportunity to gather together and to marvel at the miracle of our lives, as distant and parallel as they once were before UD, all converging at this one place that has been our home. This has been our resting point, our point of return. Each break would come and go and we’d find ourselves pining for the haven that was UD. We’d return to school and resume the endless cycle of assignment,submission and finals, but it was always worth it. Each semester contained new memories, each week new opportunities and each day new lessons we learned. 

For so many of us, graduation was our last hurrah. Our last moment to recognize each other as comrades along this winding and arduous journey. We’ve achieved all that we have because we have had each other. 

How do you say goodbye to the people that have been your rock for the past 4 years? How do you say thank you to these dear friends who have comforted you in your lowest and picked you back up before you could do it for yourself? How do you come to terms with the fact that all of you are now going your separate ways when you’ve been inseparable ever since you met in freshman year in Greg (or Theresa or Jerome or Madonna or O’Connell or Augustine)? What do you do when you realize that that late night conversation, that coffee at the cap bar, that walk down the mall, that Sunday at Mass, that drive to Whataburger or San Diego tacos, that night in Deep Ellum or that dinner with friends was the last? 

How do we say goodbye to our professors? Graduation is a time where our dear, dear professors begin to get a bit sentimental with us. We’re no longer their students, so we may even get the opportunity to become their friends. More than that, graduation was our opportunity to thank them and celebrate their victory as well. Graduation would have been the day to thank them for all the moments they’ve inspired you, encouraged you, and taught you. 

Some of us changed majors and discovered our passions by watching them, some of us have stayed in our majors because of their faith in us and some of us have made life-altering decisions because they’ve told us that we were smart enough and brave enough to do so. Some of us are on paths similar to theirs because we’ve not found anyone else that has inspired us as much as they have. 

They’ve been our Virgil through it all. 

How does this loss affect our family, and most importantly our parents? Graduation was not just our moment of victory, but theirs too. It was meant to be their moment to revel in the success of seeing their child through these years and then sending them off into the real world. For so many of us, family has been our primary support through college. They may not always have understood our struggles, but they were always there to have your back and to give you exactly what you needed when you needed it. Some of our parents may even be more upset than we are about not having a graduation!  

And so, without the closure of graduation, where does that leave us, the graduating seniors of 2020? How are we to enter into, what has been dubbed, the “real world?”  

As we approached the final Zoom meeting for our Postmodern class, our class caught a brief glimpse into something very personal for our professor, Dr. Brett Bourbon. We were sent a piece of writing that we were meant to read for the last class discussion. It was accompanied by a little preamble, but it was characteristically cryptic and did not clue us in as to how personal and real this piece of writing was for Dr. Bourbon, and was about to be for us. He is one of the more memorable professors I’ve had the honor of being taught by, and a class favorite amongst the English majors. It is with his permission that I borrow his words to attempt to articulate what we have experienced. 

Dr. Bourbon writes, “Love is interruption. Interruption is an attention, an accident with the force of necessity.” 

And indeed, our lives are testament to this statement. We have all been interrupted by this four-year stop at UD. We uprooted ourselves from all that we knew and bravely embarked down an unknown path with grand ideas and plans for our lives. We had no way of knowing just how much our lives would be altered, but now that we’ve finished this course and reached the end, we believe it was necessary. 

“I would not be the same person I am today if I had not met you” — is as true a statement as it is beautiful. An “interruption” in this sense moves with such a force that it alters the entire trajectory of your life. This love is like that which you find in another, the love that you experience in God or the love found in a passion or vocation. Once you identify that love, there is no denying it or it’s life-altering force. So much of what we have experienced at UD has changed our lives. Perhaps not always in as dramatic and drastically obvious a manner as the statement implies, but in all the little ways that we may not notice. 

And so it seems, at the end that is actually a beginning, we are back where we started four years ago. Physically, most of us are back where we left off before college, living with our families, wherever home was for us; different cities, different states and even different countries. We have to process all that happened over these four years from our bedrooms or from our couches. How? 

Well, I don’t really know how. We try and we cry, but I don’t know if we can. We think back at all the “what if’s” and all the “would have’s,” but we will all especially dwell on all the “remember when’s.” 

Perhaps, in another way, we’ve come full circle: we find ourselves, once again, facing an unmapped path and searching for courage. 

Knee-deep in uncertainty and unexpected changes, we have been thrust into the “real world” just like that. The paths that we envisioned for ourselves do not seem to be falling in place, and it’s scary. Where do we go from here? I don’t want to say that this pandemic will eventually become an “interruption,” something necessary and something we come to appreciate. People are dying every single day, and that isn’t poetic in any sense. 

However, what I hope will happen is that we will look back and see the courage and tenacity that we approached this next step in our lives with. I hope that we can meet each other again at our fifth, tenth and fiftieth year reunions and congratulate each other then for all that we have been able to overcome. That sense of victory, of camaraderie that will be ingrained in our friendships for years to come, that is what will be necessary; that is where we will find our force of necessity. 

And while I have already borrowed words, allow me to do so again, this time from Teresa Vall.

To our professors, our family and parents, our friends and most of all to the class of 2020: thank you. 

“We have done better things because of you.”

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