Goodbyes are sweet. The more I travel, the more I have to say goodbye. To new places, new people, to old places, to old people. I think providing the space for proper goodbyes is important and powerful. Recently, we said goodbye to a volunteer that had been here for a month. She and I (and our other volunteer friend) had arrived on the same day as had a large group of students whom we’d grown close with. She and I had spent so much time together over that past month, and we were always aware of the ticking time clock. When the time came, I was sad, but ready. She had amazing adventures to go on, as did I. We spent our last night, huddled in a group of friends, singing pop songs trying to amplify struggling Iphone speakers with a tupperware bowl, and sharing our favorite memories.
Earlier that night, our last meal together, the trio, was at a pizza spot near the house. Our first meal together had been at the burger place a few doors down. As we sipped on sangria, we spoke about other goodbyes we’d had. From high school, from college, from trips. In a way, these goodbyes prepare us for new beginnings, an opportunity to attempt to gather all of the lessons, experiences, from one set of time, appreciate them and prepare ourselves anew.
Despedidas (goodbyes, send offs) from high school and college are particularly poignant for me. These are the few times in your life when you’ve spent so long in a similar period of life with people. In high school, you’ve battled adolescence and academics together. In college, an understanding of how to see the world. With that perspective, being able to look back is weighty, nostalgic, cringe-worthy and awe-inspiring to think about the transformation four years (roughly) can perform.
At Harvard, they take this goodbye seriously. Graduation is a three-day long event of reunions, events, and various commencement events. There are the ones for your class, for your affinity group, your social group, your house, etc. Everyone has their own special way of saying goodbye. And Harvard has to make an affair of them all.
On our final day of graduation, we awoke at 6am to process into the yard to Tercenterary Theater standing atop of the millions of books underground in Widener Library. Outside of our window, a bagpiper dressed in a kilt played as we dressed in our (white?) gowns and suited up for the final time in our black embroidered robes. Downstairs in each house, they served champagne and mimosas, handed us wrapped egg and ham sandwiches and sent us on our way, like a mother prepping an eager child. Although I should have been sad, I could not contain my smile as we flooded the streets of Cambridge coming in from all corners of the Square. Everywhere I turned a group of black robes accompanied by instruments and signs appeared, descending together for one last time. Pomp and ceremony followed and our degrees were conferred. But graduating wasn’t quite over. We had one last goodbye.
That night, atop Widener Steps, I cried four years worth of tears. My room was packed (mostly), and slowly almost 1000 students gathered upon the steps of Widener Library to say a last goodbye. A true and final goodbye of our own, guided not by ceremony and formality, free from the weight of heavy black gowns and staged photo ops. I moved up and down steps saying hi and bye to people who I may have seen only a few times over the past four years till I made my way to my blockmates, linkmates, and other close friends all huddled together. I cried for the beauty of the relationships I had in that circle. I cried through the pain of relationships lost and crushed by time and poor decisions. I cried for the uncertainty that accompanied this new world I would have to navigate without them right by my side. And I cried most fiercely for the deep appreciation I had of the knowledge they and so many others before them had generously shared with me over the years. I was filled with stories, perspectives, critiques, opinions, I never could have come to on my own. I had left the uppity, ignorant child of my youth behind, to become a slightly less ignorant almost-adult humbled to step out into the world.
In the morning, I packed away my sheets, took a final shower, and dropped my key off at the Building Manager’s office. I shed no tears. I had left it all on the steps. Now, my focus turned toward the future. It felt bright, and I felt eager. Leaving it all on the steps, in the events, in the gown, I confidently walked through the courtyard, empowered by the lessons I would take into the world, humbled by the ones I had yet to learn.
From this I say, give yourself the space to say goodbye if you are lucky enough to have it. Sometimes goodbyes come too soon. So if you are so lucky, sit in it. Smile in it. Cry in it. One in the same are the mistakes and the lessons. Carry not sadness, but knowledge. Carry not fear, but hope. Let no one thing drag your steps from walking confidently in the direction of your future.