On Sunday night, I sat alone on a bench in South Station holding what was literally and – perhaps more importantly – figuratively a one-way ticket home. There was a semblance of relief, knowing that years of toiling away at problem sets, preparing for exams, and pulling all-nighters had finally moved from the present to the past. But, for some reason, this wasn’t what I imagined my final moments in Boston feeling like. I expected there to be more elation, more joy, and more optimism as I looked toward the beginning of the rest of my life. But, in reality, there was none of that, as instead I felt sorrow that the good times and the friends I left behind won’t be returning in September.
At the start of May, the end of my undergraduate career couldn’t have come fast enough. The last two weeks of term were spent in a pressure cooker, as presentation followed project, and project followed paper. But the moment did eventually come; at precisely 3:23pm on Thursday, May 12, my work at MIT was done. Like many other seniors, I had no final exams – or any obligations – in the three weeks until commencement.
Unfortunately, those were three weeks for my jubilation to dissipate. The weather was markedly poor during the third week in May as the temperature struggled to surpass 60F and the sky remained dark and sunless. But, I still managed to find time to relax in the vacuum, as I caught up on sleep, enjoyed an end-of-semester dinner with The Tech, and celebrated a friend’s birthday. Every once in awhile, I’d step off campus, but I ultimately ended up returning as I hung out with people who I distracted from their exam preparations.
Toward the end of that week, I returned home to Maryland with two friends, for whom I played tour guide of the nation’s capital. I had known each of them for a year, but I had gotten to know them better during that one week at home than during the previous thirty at school. It was truly amazing the friendships that could be fostered when aimless discussions aren’t interrupted by guilt and exhaustion brought upon by work. Neither of my two friends was graduating with me, so I quickly foresaw how this strengthening bond would result in misery.
Nevertheless, with one week remaining before commencement, I spent almost my entire time back at MIT hanging out with friends, including the aforementioned two, in MacGregor, which is where a large portion of students staying over the summer are housed. I put off clearing up my room and selling off my unwanted textbooks until the last minute, as I continued to wallow in what seemed to be my final moments with my friends. I saw how peaceful and beautiful the campus could be during the long, warm summer days. I realized just how impressive the buildings could be when I didn’t have to drag myself out of bed to them to attend lectures.
Indeed, as I saw all the friends and families of graduates lining Massachusetts Avenue and Memorial Drive while the Class of 2011 walked into Killian Court on June 3, I realized – perhaps too late – I was going to miss this place.
That isn’t, of course, to say I don’t have great things to look forward to. This September, I’ll be beginning a Masters of Science program in structural engineering at Stanford; I expect to complete the degree program, and head into the “real world”, by March 2013. Prior to that, I’ll be spending my fourth consecutive summer abroad, this time studying Arabic in Amman, Jordan, as part of the Critical Language Scholarship program. And, as if to compliment the beginning of my summer, after the program, I expect to go to Turkey to visit one of the two friends who came to my home last month.
Unfortunately, though, that was the last thing on my mind Sunday night. The previous three weeks had drowned my ambitions with the memories I was leaving behind. I couldn’t help but think I was journeying into the abyss, with cultures, people, and places unfamiliar. This was especially surprising, as I felt my travels had made me immune to this discomfort. But perhaps, as before, I could take solace in the old adage, “Ships are safe in harbor… but that’s not what ships are made for.”
So, as before, I’m on my way. Full steam ahead.