It’s fifteen minutes later than my brother thought we’d be leaving when my little Forester finally pulls out of the driveway. He stands in the doorway, watching while my parents, my sister, and I pack our cars to their proverbial gills and make our way back to campus.
“You know what you’re doing, Maddie. It’s gonna be fine,” he laughs off my nerves as I prattle on about the drive, the stops we’re going to make, and my reservations about leaving home. “It’s not like this is your first rodeo.”
He’s right. This is not my first time moving out to college. It’s not my first time driving across the country, or filling a dorm room with cute kitschy gifts from my grandparents, or even going to college at all. This two-parter routine — where I leave my ‘old life’ behind to go and find one at school — has happened to me so many times over the last four years, that at this point, it should feel like old news, like I’m moving through the motions of a long-practiced dance. But something about this move isn’t the same, and I think it may have something to do with what I’m moving towards: instead of chasing after a new life, I’m headed in the direction of the end of this little one.
The road is (very, VERY) long to get to Malibu from my little town in Texas, and the drive along it can be very demoralizing. It’s miles and miles of flat earth and 80-miles-per-hour stretches and too many 18-wheelers to count. The empty sameness of the perennially yellow grass fields and ever-decreasing lack of trees and towns only makes the already spiralling thoughts I have about college ending even more bent out of shape. I only see a cow once or twice, and my dad gets halfway through his audiobook while I doze in the sunlit passenger seat and try not to think about what’s coming. About what it means for this part of my life to end.
Graduating college is supposed to be a good thing, a thing to be proud of and hang on your wall. Getting your degree, celebrating your achievements, searching for the next thing to fill your school-less days — that’s all supposed to be exciting, right? It’s supposed to give you a chance to take all of that hard-earned knowledge and apply it to the real world. It’s supposed to give you hope.
But in a world that is so dragged down with disease, poverty, violence, and Zoom meetings, it’s been hard for me to feel that hope. This year in particular has put a lot of pressure on students like me, and it hasn’t given us very much back. I feel very burned out by the constant barrage of online school and work, and it’s made it hard for me to imagine that the future version of myself is going to have better days than I do right now. It both is and isn’t a unique situation to be graduating into: most seniors probably feel like their world is ending in their final semester, but with a global pandemic and a dwindling job market standing in the way, my anxieties feel strangely and uniquely vindicated by the real-world circumstances of my graduation.
When my dad and I finally make it to the gates of Pepperdine, my stewing anxiety brain tries to push everything away — all of the fear and sadness and anger that this year has brought me. But when I look out at the ocean again, or pass the empty library, I feel something deep inside stirring, something that I had almost forgotten to welcome along with my fears. When I move my packed-up boxes and bags into my dorm, when I say goodbye to my parents for the first last time, when I make my first cup of coffee in my new kitchen, and sit down to write my first Her Campus article of the semester, I feel it again. In between my fluttering fingers at the keyboard and the running of the dorm bathroom sink, I find that I can almost see it shining — that hope I thought I’d lost last March. The hope that things can get better.