For the Class of 2017
Many say a photo speaks a thousand words. But as these past four years play in a reel of a million photos, memories, and moments, I realize there aren’t enough words. There isn’t even a word.
There is no word for feeling sad and happy and nostalgic and optimistic at the same time.
University has given us something immeasurable, and with our exit soon approaching, I am at loss of understanding what, exactly, ending this chapter of our lives means. It scares me because I know that we are graduating. But I cannot comprehend it. I don’t know how it will feel to walk across the stage. I don’t know how it will feel to wake up the next morning and leave this community. I don’t know how one weekend is enough time to commemorate a fifth of our lives with (or the fifths we’ve collected atop of our shelves). There simply aren’t enough words to describe what we’ve found here. What we’ve found in each other. There aren’t enough words to comprehend who we’ve become here. There aren’t enough words to realize, before we’re 30 and looking back, how we are not simply leaving a place, but a people, a time. How that song we used to play in the car will hit us in the chest when we’re doing work in a coffee shop hundreds of miles away, or watching our kids’ soccer games in 20 years.
There is no way of conceptualizing who we’ll become outside of it all, and to what capacity it has given us something eternal. Or at least, something I hope is eternal. What I’m talking about is this undefinable, ultimate resolution I’ve witnessed each of us discover every day, week, and month that we’ve lived here. A slow but steady epiphany amidst the late nights, busy schedules, jumbled dreams, and self doubts - that everything is okay. That with the downs there are unequaled ups. That at the end of the day everything is not just okay, it’s undoubtedly brilliant, because we have each other. And the craziest thing is, we didn’t just find it in our best friends. We found it in the strangers, the classmates, the people we barely know, the cohorts of comrades that run around, drive with their music blasting, huddle above the ocean cliffs, or file in and out of parties. We found it in the familiar faces we've come to recognize, people we might not call in the future, people we didn't spend as much time with here, but people who ultimately made this experience in our lives great, with their smiles, hellos, and warm embraces. They all scream it without having to: We are the same. We are together. We are together. We are together.
When I walk outside of my 8-friend house into the middle of the streets of Isla Vista, gazing at the homes of my best friends, the neighboring ocean, familiar faces playing volleyball, throwing a party, skating and laughing and talking, there is something that I know. Something I may have thought of before, but never truly knew. It is this theme in life that becomes instilled in us when meaningful experiences take place. It is this thing that exists beyond actions or the fleeting state of a moment, some form of trust, a belief, an outlook, a shared thread of memories, aspirations, and feelings that unifies our experience, spreads our smiles wide, and amplifies our laughter, echoing within the houses we occupy that barely meet the safety standards.
It is this undefinable thing: a belief that life is good. Life is for us, and not against us. Life is everything. Life is beyond worth living. It is the ability to trust in ourselves, to trust in others, to trust in this. This is what we’ve found here.
We’ve had the past four years to figure this out. To study really hard. To not study at all. To throw our cautions to the wind and jump into things completely new. To dream different dreams and dispose of the term “comfort zone”. To experiment with love and learn what meaningful means. For UCSB, Isla Vista, university itself, there is no word to describe it. It is everything: a place, a people, an identity, an experience. Usually you don't find all of those in one package. It is a place that is totally ours - a home to 20-something year olds, people that are totally us - smiling faces with the same number of questions, an identity we each play a role in - youth, unity, learning, playing, and an experience we all share - college. While it is unrightfully pessimistic to believe we won’t have many of these things in the new places we venture to, it is naive to believe that everything will be the same.
Remember that time we ran around Costco together? When we caught the sunrise in a happy haze of juice and champagne? When you told me about the night I didn’t remember. When I told you about the night you didn't remember. The event descriptions. The jars. There is no word to describe the waves crashing, curling, comforting our doubts and reassuring our joys on a strip of sand that belongs to us. The sounds of people waking up, motions of ocean dwelling, cafe studying, and listening to the progressive soundtrack of the transition from work to rally: a slow awakening of music and people emerging from the day to celebrate the night.
We have a safe and reassuring web here in which we know we matter, intertwining in and out of every block of this one mile square filled with us. We are surrounded by people who believe in us, and people we believe in as well. It is a web that has caught us in the moments we felt like we were falling, and propelled us into the air, smiling, cheering, every time we opened ourselves up to it.
This undefinable thing we have here. This thing that has no word. I don’t want us to lose it. But maybe we don’t have to, maybe that’s the point. The end is not an end. When people say it’s “The End”, the end of an era, I fear they believe it is the end of us. The end of this. It is easy to imagine that leaving this place will spring us into a realm where youth is no longer celebrated, where we won’t have the time, we won’t have the passion, or we won’t have the people. Where doing things with friends, talking about life, loving, living, and learning becomes second to the duties of an adult. But this is a heinous concept. It is not us. And it is definitely not the life I plan on living. I plan on smiling as brightly as I did before. I plan on loving as strongly as I did before. I plan on laughing as loudly as I did before. 85 years old? Find me at the wine cabinet. Or running around naked in the ocean. Because this is what life is about. This is what we’ve learned here. And promise me, promise me, none of us will ever forget that. It is up to us to make graduating not equate ending. This real, rewarding, wonderful living, it’s up to us to hold it close, and help others find it themselves.
Promise me that we will not lose what we have gained here. We will not lose our belief in a life that is good, full of people, characterized by passion, ablaze with energy, and celebratory of difference. Promise me that we will not forget our dreams, or the moments we spent talking about them. I want us to continue on with an unfaltering trust in everything this place, this time, and these people have given us. How it feels to live by all of our close friends, to work towards different dreams and learn from varying values. The feeling we get when we realize that we are never alone, that no one is perfect, that life is crazy but ultimately rewarding because we are living it altogether. College is over, but the raw, genuine, close kind of living we have learned here, mastered here, afraid to lose, does not have to be. I used to think that these past 4 years were a celebration of youth. That our community was great because of our youth. That what we have right now, at 22 years old, is youth. But that’s not the right word. There isn’t a word. It’s just life. How it should be. The kind of life that makes you wake up each morning excited, and go to bed at night with a heart full of gratitude. The kind of life that books are written about, plots based around, and little kids imagine with wide, awe-glazed eyes. The kind of life that others say we’ll look back on. And I’m sure we will. But not with a sore heart, with a full one. Because this fairytale period has taught us things we can, should, and will carry forward, true to us, for the rest of our lives.
If there were a word, I would say that we’ve had this whole time is life. And what I want us to have in the future is life. Not 6 figures or a mansion or a fancy car. Not a spouse, not fame, not a fancy title at the end of our names. I don’t care about that, some of us will find that, society will make sure we do. But what we need to make sure of is that we continue living amidst it all. What I want is to see each and every one of us continuing on, creating as much life as we can create. I want us to enter this next chapter, and the chapter after that, and parenthood, and grandparenthood, with the same skip we spent the past 4 years running on the beach with. The same laughter we illuminated every night with. The same love for each other that once transformed mutual friends into best friends. Confused freshmen into a community.
I don’t want to see us working 8 hours a day to watch television until we fall asleep. Nor skipping the party we were invited to because the comfort of a couch is more confiding. Nor keeping our dreams, doubts, or thoughts to ourselves because adults should have it “all figured out”. Reach out to people. Open yourself up. Get to know the strangers in your new city. Continue getting to know yourself. HAVE FUN ALWAYS. Not just when you're young, but when you're old. When your skin looks like a spoiled tomato and your teeth start to fall out. Always have fun. Actively have fun.
Yes, things are changing. This won’t be easy. No one ever said that. It hurts to think that we will leave each other. It hurts me immensely to think that we will grow in different ways, we will live different lives, our daily updates will become monthly, annual, vague. I won’t know that you got another tattoo on your lip. Or that it looks terrible. New people will creep into our lives, we can’t tell who they are, we can’t imagine who they might be. But they’ll be new, different. They won’t be the faces we’ve been seeing everyday. Faces we’ve screamed with, listened to, partied aside till the hour of the night no longer mattered. But as we contemplate what will happen once this is all over, the hats thrown in the air, the families, the friends, the final moments, let us not forget how capable we are. Let us not forget how capable we are of starting something new and triumphing every challenge we are fortunate enough to face. Of putting ourselves in unfamiliar situations and finding ourselves along the way. We are not who we were when we came here, and that is a testimony to how well prepared we are for these next chapters of our lives.
When I think of the things we have been through, the emotional turmoil, the goodbyes, the transitions, I am astonished to recognize how good things are, how good things always turn out to be. Moving to a new country for a year without knowing the language, saying goodbye to close friends from high school, from college, loving people, losing people. We have all dealt with loss, with change, and yet, we have all continued to cultivate the persistence of our smiles. I am astonished at how good things are, regardless of how weird, crazy, or nonsensical life can seem. We are fully capable of doing this. And beyond that, I want us to recognize what we are doing is A. HUGE. DEAL. We did it. We did it all and we did it well, we’re graduating and we’re graduating from the best place on earth.
We have done outstanding things these past 4 years, crafted moments that we will treasure for the rest of our lives, created memories that will inevitably source joy, optimism, and heartfelt emotions into the experiences of our future selves. We are young. We are capable of so much. There isn’t a word, but whatever it is that we have here, we can continue to have in the future. We should have in the future. Promise me, we will have it in the future. We will all make sure of it. Because without it, life would be boring. Without it, college wouldn’t have taught us much.
So let’s do it. Let’s do it all. Let’s continue to live, to love, to strive, to feel passionate and alive and worthwhile, because we are. Because life is. Life is beyond worth living.
Let’s do outstanding things, class of 2017. Let’s keep on living life as best we can.