To infinity, and beyond

By Katie McKenna

How did we get here? I’d like to think that we’ve come from similar beginnings: computer games like Oregon Trail and Backyard Baseball, green and purple ketchup, Easy Bake Oven, Mary-Kate and Ashley – or as my brother so affectionately called them “Mary-Kate and Mashley.” Bop-It, Scholastic book fairs, Blockbuster, dial-up internet.  By the way, I’m still wondering – what is in a wonder ball? I actually never found out, though the commercial will be forever cemented in my brain. 

Courtesy of Katie McKenna
Courtesy of Katie McKenna

Most people graduating with me can relate to at least one, if not all, of these things and look back on them with fondness, sure – but in our childhood, in our Bop-It-Extreme, overall-wearing days, could we have ever predicted that we’d come as far as we have? Here we are about to graduate from the University of Massachusetts–and yet, in our younger and more vulnerable years, did we ever see it coming? Could we have ever planned this?

At UMass I’ve learned that life really isn’t at all about the plan; it’s about everything else.  So, you can have a plan, and that’s great, but I wouldn’t be afraid to diverge a little. Digress. Do more. Even more. I learned about that when UMass offered me was the opportunity to live in a place where Guinness was good for you, and that, by Irish logic, was because it was “made of more.” Beyond average limits. To go to infinity and beyond, as I’m sure some of us have heard somewhere before. 

It’s like my favorite professor, Maddie Blais once told me, “Doing a phone interview is like kissing a man without a moustache.” I’d considered writing a profile about someone who lived a bit out of reach, so I figured the phone might be a suitable substitute for the in-person interview. After she told me about the moustache, I knew right then and there that there was no possible way I could write a good piece from the phone – I could write an average one, sure, a piece without a moustache. So I picked a new place to profile – I wrote about my workplace, the Newman Catholic Center – and learned a lot about this beautiful campus facility and the beautiful people like Father Gary Dailey that help to make it what it is. It wasn’t according to plan; it was better.

Our lives today are far from what we could have predicted, far from dial-up and Backyard Baseball, and I like to think my cooking talents have emerged past Easy Bake Oven, though it seems I’ve really only mastered the art of frozen pizza. Mary-Kate and Mashley aren’t kids anymore. Instead of Blockbuster we just watch Netflix. And the green ketchup? Well…did anyone ever really love it in the first place? Or do we just love it now because it’s nostalgic, because it ties us together, because it feels sentimental and because it’s a part of where we came from?

A novelist named Tova Mirvis once wrote, “To be from somewhere – it didn’t mean that you loved the place, or even liked it; to be from somewhere meant that the city was entrenched into your identity.”  I like to think the articles of our past – the green ketchup, per se – are maybe, just a little bit entrenched into our identities.  When we leave UMass, parts of this university will always linger somewhere within us, no matter how outdated they’re bound to become.  You were, you are, UMass. Right?

We are the tropical temperatures of Bartlett Hall, the place between two chairs we might throw our coats at a party. We are the friend-who-knows-a-friend because, at least as I’ve come to understand, everyone knows someone who knows someone at UMass.  Singing the fight song with an elderly man I called from the Newman Center, I think about how wonderful it is to have a commonality with a guy I’ve never even met, someone I was only really supposed to call to read off a script and get a donation. But we can’t always follow the script, can we? A film professor taught me that. He said, “Keep your eyes fixed firmly outside the box, and you will find adventure.” Thanks, Professor Katzenbach, and thank you, UMass. Now, time to set off on that big adventure – to infinity, and beyond.      

Katie McKenna is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]