When I tell students that I’m graduating this May 13, I get either of two generic responses. Upperclassmen ask, “Why haven’t I seen you before?” Underclassmen stare for a moment before saying, “Oh, you must have done Running Start.” Yes, I’m graduating early. Two years ahead of schedule, in fact, at the unripe age of 19. While other seniors may be planning to celebrate with their friends over drinks, I’m on campus with the friends who I feel like I only just met and will soon leave behind.
After learning of my early graduation, their next question is usually, “Are you excited?” To which I briskly reply, “No.” Instead of excited, it feels as if I’m cheating myself out of two more years at a place I’ve loved since my first visit. So why am I not staying two more years? I’m still waiting for a generous donor to make that possible, if you know any.
This column isn’t meant as a diatribe against the cruelties of early graduation, though. Instead, I’m writing a letter of advice to you, the students who will be here next year.
As one of my professors, Jim McPherson, likes to remind his classes, students do not come to Whitworth for a degree. If all they wanted was a degree to be successful, they could get any public higher education for less tuition. No, we come to Whitworth to learn about more than science or art. The problem is you can miss everything worth learning if you only show up to classes and do the homework.
If you’re the average Whitworth student, you’ll stay here four years and leave. Those years are shorter than they appear at Traditiation. They’ll disappear if you are not quick to grab onto the memorable moments that matter. What those moments will be depend on you, but in my experience, they are the moments when you reflect one-on-one with your professor on how what you’re learning applies to your life, when you go to a campus club on your own just because it sounded interesting and you want to meet more people, when you ask someone to hear more about their life beyond schoolwork.
I knew coming into Whitworth that I would have half as much time here as a traditional student. I didn’t want to waste any time being hesitant about meeting people. My first semester, I asked Keith Beebe, my D-group leader, to coffee through the Dine With a Mind program. I have used the program to talk with other professors every semester since then.
I also invite friends to coffee who I would like to know on a deeper level but don’t see often when left to our regular schedules. Sometimes I’ve only met these students once and know I might not have the opportunity to talk with them again unless I make it a priority. I gladly put off homework until the last minute if it means creating a closer relationship and hearing someone’s life story. That’s living intentionally.
Living by purposeful, meaningful choices, like putting a person ahead of a grade, means refusing to float through life. The easy but less satisfying way to live is by letting the current sweep you up. You get into a routine of classes, a job, homework, and eating meals with the same people. You perfect your schedule and memorize it until you can go through an entire day without making any choice more serious than eating either chicken nuggets or pizza. You might get to the end of the day and wonder where the day went in the second before falling asleep.
Intentionality means leaving the beaten path to do something unexpected and different. Intentional choices take thought. They are not part of autopilot programming.
On my part, I enjoy asking to coffee people I want to know better. I don’t wait until there’s a break in my busy life. I don’t wait until the other person makes the “first move.” I swallow any nerves and just ask to set a time. If the person refuses and doesn’t want to talk, what have I lost? My pride? Maybe it damages my confidence, but that will heal by my next coffee date.
Most seniors seem to give up meeting new people by their last semester. What’s the point when they probably won’t see the new people again? In my case, though, I’ve done the opposite. For these last few weeks, I planned coffee and lunch dates with anyone I want to get to know a little more before my departure. I’m still seeking new friends even in this final hour. I don’t want to regret after graduation that I didn’t spend more time with other people in my last weeks as a Whitworth student.
In ten years, I doubt I will remember the scores I get on my finals. I will not care to think back on nights spent staying up late to finish a big essay. Those won’t be memories I will cherish. When I look back on my short time at Whitworth, I want memories of connecting with people I have nothing in common with and hearing their stories. I want to remember late nights when the speech filters come off and people say what scares them and what makes them impassioned.
But I won’t have these memorable moments if I don’t make them a priority and live with the intention of finding them. They won’t happen if I have excuses or get distracted making less important memories.
So my challenge for you, the continuing students, is to discover those memories you want of Whitworth. What is most important to you beyond a degree and impressive résumé? If you intentionally make those moments a priority, you’ll find you have time in these four years to make them happen.
Story by Emily Roth Staff Writer
Contact Emily Roth at firstname.lastname@example.org.