A year ago, I was writing my final discourse column as a staff writer for TKS. I was giving my last few tours of campus, some to future Knox students whose paths I would never cross again. I was buying my last bottle of Barefoot Pink Moscato at the Quickie, probably on a weekday, because that’s who I’d become by the end of my four years in Galesburg: the kind of person who spent so much time working that she’d stopped going by the days of the week and started going by the minute. Which deadline to look at directly, how to keep the peripheral ones from encroaching and distracting.
I knew, intellectually, that graduation was going to happen no matter what. I knew, intellectually, that there would be an “after.” And yet, a year ago, what mattered the most was just freaking getting there. Senior week was every bit as tumultuous and emotional as every older friend had warned me. I got matching tattoos with five of my favorite human beings on the planet and lit sparklers in the graveyard on Academy Street and laughed myself senseless.
Finally, it hit. My academic advisor Cyn Fitch ’00 gave me a ride home from Round Midnight, the annual (and beautiful) English major send off at which I had already teared up a time or two, bidding me goodnight and telling me good luck. Tomorrow, I would graduate from Knox College. I walked up my front steps, one of those partially dilapidated houses on Monmouth Boulevard. I unlocked the door, stepped inside, closed the door, and promptly collapsed on the floor with my face in my hands, sobbing. Suddenly, the weight. I was alone for the first time in what felt like years. Everything that had been speeding along at full-tilt since September of 2012 had come to a full stop and I hadn’t even felt it slow down.
If you are reading as a Spring Term senior, know this: we all feel it, and we all feel it just that hard. Cry about it. Do. It will help.
Now fast-forward with me.
It has been a year, or almost, since I collapsed on the floor with my face in my hands. In that time, I moved to an unfamiliar state with one of my fellow tattoo-havers, got a job (or two), published a couple of poems in some small literary magazines and started my graduate school search. I voted against the current president. I marched with Black Lives Matter. I stood beside my mother at the Women’s March. I reread my final portfolio from my Creative Writing major at Knox. I reread my discourse articles.
I wrote in May of 2016, in TKS, that “The most important thing I have learned at Knox is that there are times when I, personally, do not matter the most. I could stand to remember it more often.”
I was dead right. And the year I have spent away from Knox has proved it beyond what I can explain. In that column, I called out to hold my peers and myself accountable for our actions. For our love. For the use of our voices and degrees for the cause of constructive progress.
I didn’t know on the day of my college graduation that I would be walking into the world as it has grown to be since. I had the disadvantage and naivet of hoping that things would carry on pretty much as I was used to them doing. I believed that believing in the good of other people was enough, that remembering to check my privilege and sit down and shut up constituted a meaningful contribution. It is not.
If you take nothing else from Knox, take action. Take the times the administration’s silence infuriated you as a student and recognize that their silence and your fury were preparing you for a world in which you will be frequently, alarmingly helpless — push back anyway. Take the sense of community you built yourself on this campus and use it to fight for the friendships you don’t want to lose, to cast yourself bravely into the reality of a 40-hour work week without sacrificing your sense of fun, your desire to know people around you. Take the lessons you learned about social justice and inequality and apply them. Take the context you have earned here and bring it to every table. Keep showing up. Keep making art. Keep reminding yourself that you do not know as much as you think you know but that you know a whole lot.
And one last thing, especially to those of us with mental illnesses or identities which incur higher risk than white, cis, straight men, is that sometimes it takes a gargantuan effort just to make it out of bed: if that’s as much as you have, that’s as much as you have and that’s okay. Showing up can mean making it out of bed and surviving, recklessly and against all odds, in the beautiful brain and body that you occupy.
It is a rebellion of sorts in the midst of chaos to continue to exist. Let Knox remind you, for the people there who love you, that you deserve to continue to exist.
Because if I could offer my June 5, 2016 self just one piece of advice:
You do not always matter the most, but you always matter.