First, a semantic distinction. When does a "day” truly begin? Does it start at the stroke of midnight, at the sun’s first rays, or at whatever moment I finally decide to roll out of bed? As a college student with a highly irregular sleep schedule, I find the first two methodologies too regimented to be useful when attempting to frame my life in increments of “days”. For documentation purposes, my last last day of school will begin with me rolling out of bed on a particularly warm Thursday morning in the middle of May. As an aside, it may or may not be of interest to note that my last penultimate day did not end until 4:05 am, courtesy of some late night lab work for one of my last final projects. But we aren't here to discuss my last penultimate day. We are here to discuss my last last day, so without further ado, here is how it begins:
8:10 AM – My phone alarm shatters the sweet silence of my 4-hour slumber, but I use ninja-like reflexes to snooze it. Multiple times. The only things that stand between me and the freedom of summer are 1) a 20.380 final presentation, 2) an HST.426 final project, 3) presenting this final project at a showcase, and 4) writing a 2-page reflection for 17S.914. But these things can wait. Right now, I need five more minutes of sleep.
8:37 AM – I finally wake up, but not without a great deal of internal groaning and an overwhelming sense of regret regarding last night and my proclivities for procrastination. I take a moment to pull myself together before slipping into a dress and sandals (in contrast to my usual comfy T-shirt and shorts ensemble) before running out the door to make it to my 9am final presentation. It’s a fancy kind of day.
9:05 AM – Belvita breakfast biscuits are a crunchy, cracker-like ambrosia. Mumbling through mouthfuls of wholesome grains, I read through my slides and script a few more times as we wait for the rest of the 20.380 class and assorted guests to arrive.
***I've included some supplemental powerpoint slides to hopefully fill in any gaps or answer any questions that might arise throughout this narrative
9:55 AM – It is BacTelomere’s time to shine. Ten minutes and eleven slides later, everyone’s socks have been (presumably) knocked off by our revolutionary new idea. The final presentation today has been a culmination of a semester’s worth of researching, planning, failing, revising, head-against-desk-banging, and fine-tuning an innovative biological engineering tool to address the theme of the semester: overcoming biological barriers.
11:20 AM – To celebrate everyone’s hard work and the end of class, we all dig into a catered BBQ extravaganza, take pictures, and reminisce about the ups and downs of the last four months. I eat way too much pasta salad and peach cobbler, but it’s a celebratory kind of day, so why not.
One down, three more to go.
12:05 PM – I head back to the maker lab in building E25 to put the finishing touches on my final HST.426 project (the same one I was working on at 3am the night before). The four of us make last minute changes to the code and aesthetics of our final design and submit all of our final documents on the Stellar page just before 2pm rolls around.
Two down, two more to go.
2:10 PM – For the next three hours, we present our final projects to inquiring minds who have come to our HST.426 showcase. I give the same spiel about our Lab on a Spoon project multiple times while also eating fudgy brownies and chocolate cake. Despite a growing sense of fatigue, I have a lot of fun fielding questions and discussing ways in which future iterations of our kit might be improved. I also make time to walk around the room and checkout the other groups’ projects, which include another lab on a spoon, a modular NanoDrop, and an insulin dispensing kit that caters to homeless populations. Especially considering that most of us don't have any background in designing or making things, I'm quite proud of how far we have come.
The whole event was live streamed on Facebook so if you're curious, you can check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/imesmit/videos/1908234159392157/
Three down, one more to go.
5:02 PM – The instructor for 17S.914 has organized a Graduation Champagne party for all the graduating seniors. An impressive spread of tiny meatballs, quesadillas, fruit platters, cheese plates, assorted desserts, and of course, champagne greets me as I walk into the room. This is my third instance of free food today, but I persevere and eat some more. What can I say, it’s a celebratory kind of day.
5:30 PM – As a member of the Biology Undergraduate Student Association, I have been invited to the Biology Undergraduate dinner which is hosted at the end of each year to honor graduating students and Course 7 award recipients. Despite my status as a Course 20 interloper, I lie low and mingle with professors and other biology-minded students while eating hors d’oeuvres and a delightful salmon in a cream curry sauce. The acapella group Resonance performs in between dinner and the awards presentation ceremony and the evening winds down with coffee and desserts.
11:23 PM – Writing this post three days later, I can’t actually recall what I did between 7:30pm and 11:23pm. Extrapolating from what I know about myself and my work habits, I imagine it was some medley of watching YouTube videos about food and movies, browsing random articles on the internet and maybe napping (?). It’s a real mystery.
Anyway, regardless of whatever happened in those missing four hours, I finally open a Word document at 11:23pm and hammer out one last two-page reflection on the subject of cultural appropriation for 17S.914.
11:47 PM – I hit send. As my email and its pdf attachment are catapulted into cyberspace, I realize that it is over. No more projects, no more psets, no more presentations, no more midterms, no more finals. That’s it. I’m done.
Four down, zero more to go.
3:09 AM – As I crawl into bed, I don’t think the finality of it all has truly hit me. Not yet, at least. I still feel like a college student. I still feel like when I wake up tomorrow morning to start a new day, I’ll have another pset waiting to be done or another exam waiting to be taken. I still feel like nothing has changed.
Maybe it’s another instance of the birthday phenomenon. You know, that phenomenon in which you never really feel like you are n years old until you have your (n+1)th birthday. It isn’t until you’ve gone through all the smaller moments, experiences, and days that make up your 21st year that you finally understand what it means and what it feels like to be 21. However, by then, you’ve technically turned 22 and the cycle continues. There is a time lag between nominally becoming something and truly feeling as if you are that something.
I have been a college student now for 4 years, but I didn’t always feel like one. When I was a freshman, I felt as if I were entering into a brave new world. I was a high-school student in a college-student’s clothes. Nevertheless, over the course of the last four years, I have finally gained, through adaptation and repetition, a sense for what it means for me to be a college student. It’s more than just doing psets and taking exams. It’s also some intangible state of mind that has been shaped and molded by the stress, the excitement, the failures, the successes, the late nights, the early mornings, the slept-through-alarms, the late-night snacks, the inside jokes, the friendships, the arguments, the compromises, the blank stares, the lightbulb-moments, the sleep deprivation, and the hundred other things that make the college experience what it is.
Just because Thursday turned into Friday and I finished my last assignment doesn’t mean that I’ll stop feeling like a college student overnight. It’ll take time for me to process the last four years and what awaits me in the next four years of my life. I’ll probably feel like a college-student in a medical-student’s clothes for a little bit, but that’s how it goes. Besides, just because I’ve closed one chapter of my life doesn’t mean that I lose that part of who I am. It’s all one big snowball journey anyway and as ages and labels come and go, I’ll keep on tumbling down the mountain of life, picking things up and letting things go as I barrel forward, growing into a fatter and fatter snowball. Or so the metaphor goes.
I still have three more weeks to go before graduation. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do with myself between now and graduation, but it will probably involve eating food, watching TV and movies, finally learning how to crochet tiny animals, writing some stories, reading the four books I currently have checked out from the MIT library (if not more), and hanging out with friends before I say goodbye.
As June 9th draws near, I will probably have more closing thoughts to share on graduating and leaving MIT. But until then, I have to first come to terms with the sobering inevitability that my time as a college student is finite.
And so, with the passing of my last last day of school, it ends.