East, West, Southwestern is Best

College didn’t teach me the things I thought I was going to learn.

Sure, sure – I read the books, I got the grades. I know how to create a fabulous PowerPoint, format APA papers correctly, and write a speech. I know a bit of fire and a beaker of alcohol is too tempting of a combination to resist, and I should not take science classes because I might blow something up *accidentally*. (I may also know how to find standard deviation, but that’s iffy. My grammar abilities are even more questionable.) I know that walking across campus at night after binge watching Criminal Minds is a bad idea. I know that no matter what I choose to do, it will take a lot of hard work and dedication to reach success. Blah, blah, blah – yeah I know, I should be writing this on a poster above adorable kittens.

I’m graduating after two years at Southwestern Michigan College. I still can’t understand how it’s already been two years, or why they’re kicking me out now when I feel like I have just begun. How will I live without the Birdfeeder’s chicken strips?! The lengthy hallways and classrooms of this college hold so many memories for me – hilarious and awkward, painful and incredible. Like the first time I realized I wouldn’t have the same classes or see the same people that I had learned alongside for months, and I cried, or the multiple times I tried to lift my backpack and myself off the floor and nearly fell flat on my face. (Unfortunately, that happened way too often.)

Each building on campus has a certain charm, a particular feeling that comes only through years of weather, cleaning, and life. The main administrative building, Briegel, has well-lit hallways and the constant click-click of businesswomen striding quickly from one office to another in their heels. The aroma of French fries and chicken floats after you temptingly no matter where you walk. If you take the elevator to the second floor (the stairs are shorter, I promise), there are students shuffling about looking very confused and holding math textbooks like shields in front of them. I wonder what would happen if I asked one of them to find the average time it takes to work the elevator versus the average time to climb the stairs. Their brains might overheat from the strain of eight am classes and complicated math equations. I’m sure I could revive them by waving some fries under their nose.

O’Leary is the science building, where my biology teacher humored me and allowed me to play with fire. And also where I fell backwards three times in the same day (my shoes had no traction, it had been raining, the floors are waxed…excuses galore). The building wasn’t open my first year of college because it was being redone. It’s totally renovated and now you can write on the walls! But not all of the walls, as some professors found out very quickly. O’Leary is the modernistic, contemporary building full of deep sinks, the faint scent of bleach, shiny new equipment and even shinier floors (much to my dismay and the dismay of my poor aching bum).

The library is amazing – full of huge windows, soft couches, and the sound of people’s brains working a mile a minute. The thick, sleepy quiet of study rooms is broken only by the swish of pages turning and the rhythmic scritch of pencils against notebooks. There are the few brave souls who manage to disrupt the whole library atmosphere by shouting a greeting or “Eureka!!!” after figuring out an assignment. The tutoring center is tucked away in a corner, always filled with students searching for help with a particularly challenging paper or stats equation. There is nothing like the heady smell of books and pure desperation to wake one up in the morning.

The air in Lyons smells like worn-out, sweaty dance shoes, oil paint drying on canvas, wrinkled sheet music, and dusty theater seats. There’s always music echoing from some corner of the building – someone pounding through Beethoven, a voice singing a few lines from Parade, uproarious laughter from the art studios. No matter where you walk in Lyons, you cannot escape the melody – even late at night, when everyone else has gone home but the theater students are hard at work practicing their lines, or painting sets, or the choir is going over that difficult measure just one more time. If you take the stairs to the second floor and wander down the hallways, the strident piano notes are ringing through the floorboards below you and mixing discordantly with the violin in the practice room next door. If I can sense history, stories, and people anywhere on campus, it would be in the Lyons building. (Even if the stall doors in the second floor bathroom sound like tree branches breaking off in an ice storm, or in a horror movie. Depends on the time of day.)

The little cafe where I worked for a year and a half is in the student activity center, and the activity center is a whole world and culture unto itself. My cafe is right in front of the floor-to-ceiling window wall that wraps around a curve, and the whole building is full of sweaty people. The gym where all the people lift stuff and show off their muscles, the other bigger gym where they play basketball in the evenings, the climbing walls where the music is always louder than your heartbeat, the dance studios, the pool tables, video game stations, movie theater, multiple tvs – all in one place. The gym addicts and the serious gamers converge. There’s a strange dynamic in the building because couch potatoes and health nuts are thrown together and motivated to try and enjoy different things, and after months of observing, I’d say it’s going well. I love my little cafe. I love that I can be inside working and watch the seasons changing slowly outside at the same time.

The people who filled these buildings are the ones I really should be writing about. People who I will never forget, who laughed with me and cried with me and struggled over assignments with me. I would list all of your names, but that would take me all day and I’d start crying and it would get messy and sentimental and emotional as I try to explain just how much each of you mean to me. Just know I love each one of you, and the only reason I’m writing any of this is because your love and support is what made college what it was for me.

We remember beginnings and endings most clearly, but my favorite has always been the middles. Isn’t life really about the middle? Memories and moments and people tend to blur into an endless stream of time going by. I finally understand why people say college is a life-altering experience. College is so much more than the shift in worldview, the acquisition of knowledge, the lifelong friends and the people who change your life forever.

College is where I realized people are capable of being heroes and villains and sometimes both at once. Love, hatred, despair, joy – the emotions are so much more complicated than I ever imagined. College is learning that all we have is this moment, this now, so make the most of it. College is accepting that it’s okay to get crazy attached to friends I might not know five years down the road, or even three months from now. College is understanding that we might live to be a hundred and two, or we might die tomorrow, so maybe passing that class with an A isn’t as important as skipping a class period to go help out a friend. Now that is higher education for sure. Grades and achievements aren’t more important than people, and I think we often forget that.

College didn’t teach me the things I thought I was going to learn. College taught me the things I needed to learn. (And a lot of inspirational things that I should probably just sell to Walmart or Target or wherever they make those hipster chalk signs for peoples’ houses.)

We’re all in this together and we’re all we’ve got for this short period of time we each have.

Life is so much more than beginnings and endings. Let’s make the most of the middle.

May your journey be ever onward,

Beth

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One thought on “East, West, Southwestern is Best

  1. I never see your posts (they go to my spam folder!?), but I’m so glad I happened on this. You’re writing is so descriptive it’s palpable. Thank you for sharing this and I’m excited to see where you’re headed next 🙂

    Marie

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