Ever since April, being at Duke feels different, and I’ve been wondering why that is. It’s in the swarms of prospective freshman, the waving flags declaring the upcoming graduation and the gleeful Facebook statuses celebrating the end of thesis presentations. It’s the promises kept to get coffee and the hint of summer around the corner.
It’s the taste of farewell.
As someone who traveled here from a country with an entirely different college system, the worst thing about this one is how often we must say goodbye. You begin your freshman year in a place that seems to welcome you with open arms and advertises itself as the best four years of your life. Come on, Duke whispers. Make friends here. Have days you won’t forget and nights you won’t remember. Build a life here. Love here. And so you do. You care about people and attach yourself to places and you love and you live. Yet, inevitably, whether as a graduating senior, a junior going abroad or just a student facing the summer months, we have to let something go. We have to say goodbye.
I don’t mind admitting that I am exhausted and part of me is grateful for summer to come. I look in the mirror and see an impressive pair of Louis Vuittons under my eyes and a manic, coffee-grazed grin. I am growing tired of life as a checklist of homework, extracurriculars and laundry. But as May looms again, it becomes disarming just how fleeting the days now seem, and how alarmingly fast time has raced by. No matter how desperate I am for rest, I am never quite ready to say goodbye to a year to college.
Why would I be? There are countless seniors in the Class of 2014 who have showed me the best of Duke and inspired me to be a better person than I could have ever hoped. There are close friends going abroad who have kept me company in the most profound moments of my life. And there are just faces whose smile and cheer I will miss for three months (Rob from Bella Union—don’t ever stop! Also, your mocha fraps are great.) Imagining college without these people is strange and terrifying, and I can’t help but grieve. Now when I spend time with rising juniors I question, will this be different in six months? Now, every time I chat with a senior, I wonder if this will be our last conversation. What if we never meet again?
And I think that is what is the most frightening about saying goodbye sometimes—the fear that, ultimately, everything is fleeting and even meaningless. The disturbing thought that one day you might forget someone or some place or some moment that truly impacted you or someone will forget about you. And the idea that, after all of this, despite being at a moment where it seems all our lives are intertwined, we are going to lose the human connections we’ve worked so hard to gain.
It’s a sad thought that I haven’t quite reconciled with and, as challenging as Duke has been, it’s been a place of celebration and learning, too. I don’t want things to change. I don’t want to forget people. I don’t want to say goodbye.
But then I remember college is not supposed to be the best four years of our lives—only the beginning of them. So much lies ahead that we cannot predict but whatever experiences we’ve shared together in these four years will become a part of us. It is a reality that there are people who will touch our lives and never enter them again. Yet, I have faith that the mark they have left and the marks I leave are not so easily erased. These years at Duke are always going to be ingrained in the way we perceive the world, and the way we interact with others, in the way we pursue our passions and the way we love.
Saying goodbye is a mournful thing—but do we ever really say goodbye? Yes, it is difficult to think that, in a month, six thousand of us will venture out to six thousand ends of the globe.
But in my parting words for this semester, I just want to say something to seniors, rising juniors who are studying abroad and anyone really who senses the upcoming farewell and is saddened. Whoever you are, you’ve touched a life here. You’ve walked on these Chapel steps, and, while the image of how the spring flowers look falling in the Gothic Wonderland may grow hazy, it will not be forgotten.
You’ve left something behind, and it isn’t just a goodbye.
Isabella Kwai is a Trinity sophomore. This is her final column of the semester. Send Bella a message on Twitter @tallbellarina.