Not all my friends are graduating. I keep reminding myself of that, catching my hyperbole before it comes out, because there has been something this season, as classes wrap up and Senior Roasts are getting started, that feels so very final. Moments that I imagined for myself — end-of-college moments that I have spent three years imagining I would experience with a very specific group of people — are rubbing up against my reality, as I sit in my childhood bedroom and try to keep my cat from escaping because can she not tell that I am sad?
As you may have gathered, I am not graduating. I’ve been on a gap year for all of what was supposed to be my senior year. Among my friends, I’m stuck in a sort of limbo: There are the seniors, the true class of 2023, the gap juniors, who’ve had a few years to adjust to 2024, and then me.
It’s not that I feel I should be graduating. It’s not like my gap year is some impressive thing, but I’m quite content with my choices. Happy with my year off. And now I’m not graduating alongside people who I no longer like or who no longer like me, or even those who no longer dislike me like they used to. When I took the gap year, I did so knowing that half of my close friends had already taken gap years and would not be graduating — and with a cosmic feeling of rightness — like those were the people I was meant to take cap and gown pictures with. So it’s not should.
On some level, I feel like I have already graduated. I haven’t seen New Haven in over a year, I have a real job that’s a good approximation of life after graduation and I have been slowly losing contact with friends and groups that meant a lot to me during my college years and with Yale as a whole. I think of going back more like an extended visit than another semester of college.
And a part of that is because I don’t have a place at Yale anymore, not really. Because I’m not willing to risk getting COVID-19, because I’ve gotten COVID-19 at Yale three times and would give a lot not to get it again, because my sister has debilitating long COVID-19 and I know the risks and, in any case, this is not a story about COVID-19 and I am not here to argue. So I’ll leave it there. But with mitigation and risk and data being what they are, I’m planning the rest of my Yale career, to a large degree, around minimizing going inside. Yale’s spaces are no longer meant to include me. So my existence next fall will be, “I’m around when the weather’s nice,” which certainly feels a lot like what a visitor would do.
But that’s not news. And having already graduated isn’t a particularly sad feeling. It’s just sort of there. So no, it’s not having already graduated, just like it isn’t should be graduating. It’s more like I am graduating. Sure, I’ll be going back next fall. I’ll be finishing up, and barring unforeseen circumstances I’ll walk down those aisles come spring 2024. But I’m still not-not-class of 2023. I have only ever been class of 2023. So there’s some part of me-at-Yale, the me that attended BDD and who threw herself into Slifka and took a year of classes online, the me who was a part of you, who is leaving now. Even when I go back, even with friends remaining, that part of me is leaving Yale forever, as soon as my best friends and best enemies say goodbye. I shouldn’t be walking in Commencement this year or wearing a silly hat on Class Day. I have already left Yale, and yet, I am.
My sister has had a poster that says “Life after college is weird” hung up in her room since she graduated. She’s five years out and has lost touch with most of her college friends by now, even the ones who live just a few blocks away. Even before COVID-19, the relationships were fizzling out. And so here I am, and not all my friends are graduating — but enough, just enough that it feels like I am too. And I’m afraid, because we’ve come to the end of the story, the end of the line, and someone’s telling us, “We’re here, time to get off the bus.” So off the bus I go. Or don’t go, as the case may be. Off you go, taking me with you. Life after college is weird.
Ruthie Davis is a rising senior in Benjamin Franklin College.