Gloria Steinem. Betty Friedan. Sylvia Plath. Courtney Sullivan. Famous. Accomplished. Realized. They’ve worn the dress, walked the walk, counted Smith as both in their past and as what helped to make them who they became long after they strolled off down Elm Street into futures where they would make their mark on the world. They commenced, as in began, as in began to become what they would come to be. Right here. Just like you and I will, Smithies.
With the school year coming to its end, Commencement approaches like clockwork, like the sun coming around again, like the leaves unfolding on campus trees, timeless in tradition and yet so predictable. Do professors feel stuck on a wheel? May seems like a good time to reflect on what this time of year and all these sacred events mean. Reflection is something we’re used to—unless we’re oblivious. We reflect on how our day was, what went well, what went wrong, how the job interview went (“Did I say ‘like’ too much?”) We reflect because that’s part of what makes us healthy and human.
Over the next couple of weeks, many of us will find ourselves thinking about how the year unfolded, thinking about the friendships we made—or lost, priding ourselves on opportunities realized, and—most importantly—recognizing how we have grown personally. I’ll be back in the fall, happy to see the same faces and looking forward to meeting some new ones. The past fades into the future with ease, mostly.
Nonetheless, this reflection might well result in a serious case of nostalgia. Those who leave Smith must surely feel that they are leaving something very real behind: the quads, the smells, the sounds on the halls, the walks, the talks, and the very real friendships. As I think about the class getting ready to graduate, I find myself wondering what it will feel like to leave all of this behind.
Famous or anonymous, Smithies can pride themselves on their accomplishments here and their graduation. In the long term, I wish most of all that I could offer them a job. As far as tomorrow goes, how do you say “so long” to so much? Holden Caulfield, dysfunctional, alienated, and not quite a graduate, stood at the top of a hill and confessed that he “was trying to feel some kind of a good-bye.” I’m going to take as much time as I need this year to feel my good-byes. How about you?