My first formal introduction to the Massachusetts Daily Collegian office was in the first week of my freshman year during B.J. Roche’s Journalism Success seminar. My classmates and I traveled to the basement office, where robot-looking humans were face-to-face with old PC computers. I decided in that moment I would take my writing elsewhere.
For this same seminar, we had to write ourselves letters we would open during the spring of our senior year. Although I promised myself I’d wait until graduation, I opened it a few weeks ago.
In the letter, I told myself I didn’t think I could make it as a journalist. “I hope you even make it to graduation four years from now,” was actually what I said.
Meeting my 18-year-old self in a brief letter exchange was a surreal realization. In a knee-jerk reaction, I wanted to tell her a million different things: do not date that person, save your money, start working at the Collegian sooner.
But if there is anything I’ve learned in the latter half of my college career, experiences that happen unexpectedly are the most meaningful. I joined the Collegian on a whim, planning on trying something new.
Nearly six months ago I wrote an opinion piece and was finally able to put into words an experience that has defined my college career.
A year prior, during the fall of my junior year, I was sexually assaulted in Puerto Rico while on a domestic exchange program. In those months between, I was facing daily panic attacks, missing classes and assignments, hallucinating the grimacing eyes of my assailants on strangers and avoiding social interactions with anyone.
Fast-forward to last October, I was opening up to a staff of strangers about my year of fragility and trauma. Writing this piece was a moment of catharsis, a moment of clarity to identify where I was in that moment and where I had been.
Since then, those strangers have become close friends, practically family. And here I am now, a journalist at the Collegian, definitely proving my 18-year-old self wrong, struggling to accept and in fact almost cringing at the fact that four years have come and gone. Both have happened out of my control.
Perhaps we place too much profundity on graduation day, but I appreciate this moment before it is here to examine the last four years and choose what I will take with me to construct some sort of meaning, beyond losing 20 (yes, 20) UCards and totaling my Toyota Camry on University Drive during my time here.
I have learned that meaningful people and experiences enter my life at certain points and then exit. They will exist long after as faded memories, but that means, in turn, more pieces of myself that ultimately become clearer to me.
The Collegian, a 127–year-old institution, will still be here, as will the University of Massachusetts, the dorms and off-campus houses where I have lived, the library where I successfully pulled three all-nighters, the fraternity where I went to my first college party and the hallway in Herter where I puked because I ate too many spicy Cheetos before Spanish class.
New faces will claim the office, the dining commons, the crevices on this campus I’ve considered home, and they too will make it their home. So, in light of this sad farewell, I must take myself to those future unexpected experiences to bring me to my next home.
Emily Johnson can be reached at [email protected]