My Last Day of School

The journey that ended yesterday began in a small classroom roughly 2000 miles away. A Kindergarten classroom, where my friends and I used to snuggle with large stuffed animals and play ‘house’ with the plastic kitchen set. Where I’d bring books and read them to the class, relent to close my eyes during nap time, and watch the rain fall outside our window when the clouds rolled in.

A large part of my identity was forged in those classrooms, but an even larger share of my being was formed on the grounds around the school. There I’d run about with my friends and classmates, chasing butterflies and digging around in the dirt for dinosaur bones. I never did find any. But I found a lot about who I was.

I took that love of adventure and exploring and spent it on new corners of life. I fished on rivers and hiked mountains with my family, spent grueling dog days of summer on ball-fields and slid through hundreds if not thousands of piles of mud on the football pitch. And with every little jolt of energy, every little hustle through the wind and slide through the dirt, I felt alive.

And in High School, when I grappled with some of the most pressing issues of my adolescent life, such as ‘who I was’ and ‘what in the Hell did I want to do with my life?’, I took for late-evening walks and spent the better part of my nights walking around old ballfields, and soccer fields, and school grounds. Walking was a way for me to follow the arrow of my life’s journey around the hills and the valley’s that marked my life. And I never lost that fascination with seeing the world by foot.

And so it’s only fitting that yesterday, as the sun set and the moon stretched out over the horizon, I tied my shoes and went for a long walk through the dirt and the grass of the school and the city that I now call home. I followed along the steps of my past, remembering different stories and memories as they blazed by alongside my steps.


 

The Last Day

I began my walk at the church. St. Vincent DePaul’s Cathedral. I was baptized as a child, confirmed as a near-adult, and here during the early days of College I sought refuge. I remember as clear as day sitting in the back of the church, feeling the anxiety soothe through my body as I anticipated my first day of School at DePaul. But the marble statues, and the calm eyes darting around, comforted me. For a bit. And often at night during Freshman year, I’d find myself perched upon the steps of the cathedral, pondering the enormity of throwing yourself into a new world that you didn’t know.

Next, I walk past Corcoran Hall. I used to live here, behind the shutters of a room that wasn’t quite visible from my view. The room where I had lived gave an excellent view of the soccer field, the glaring eyes of a terrifying St. Vincent face on the wall, and an American flag illuminated by the light. There’s a patch of grass just on the outside where I had discovered the first of many books that I’d read in College. Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle’. And it was so fitting, for my life would be marked by the jungle that is the meatpacking city, the city of big shoulders. I swear that even today we can smell the residual stench of the meatpacking plants.

The rectangular sheet of grass behind Cortelyou Commons comes next. I look back to a particular circumstance, way back in Freshman year, where a date and I had walked along the grass here and decided to dance in the dewy grass. It’s early morning time, 2:30 or so, and she begins to play Tchaikovsky on her phone as our shoes slip off. We become good friends, and our dance is magical. A drunken mind makes you think that you’re a fantastic Russian ballerina.

Emerging gardens and flowers remind me of the sun, remind me of the beautiful ways in which the greenery of springtime emerges from the desolation of winter. But I love the winter, make no mistake. No one takes long, thoughtful walks during the wintertime. During the winter, the campus is all my own. But even now, as the weather warms and the winter fades, I can tell that it’s finally time for me to go.

I walk into the student center, and quickly walk back out. I’m reminded of over-priced but desperately needed meals, meals devoured one after another by a guy who still had the metabolism of when he was an athlete. I went here almost daily for two years, and then, suddenly, I stopped going. I didn’t need to go anymore because I had had my fill.

The Library. Oh God, the library. I’ve had some breathtakingly painful moments in here. My family would be ashamed of how many papers I’ve completed in here within mere minutes of due dates. How many finals I’ve studied for right before the exam, how many finals weeks I’ve spent huddled with my laptop and binders of notes, caught in the fetal position.

But I’ve also had some incredibly beautiful moments in there, too. I’ve read so many beautiful things on the third floor, in the open side room where everyone tries to find a table. There’s a table on the fourth floor, in the farthest corner behind a stack of bookshelves, where I poured over so many great ideas for projects of my future: poems, stories, novels, shows. If there ever is a day when my words do finally break out from the chains of this blog, it’ll be because of that chair up there.

Levan Center and the SAC. Yeah, I had a lot of classes in here. To be even more pointed, I had a lot of very boring classes in here (admittedly most of my best classes were in Arts and Letters). There’s a thing that I did every class that I had in Levan or in the SAC, where I’d leave sometime during the middle of lecture if it was clear that the words weren’t going anywhere. I’d escape and find myself to the SAC pit, where I’d sit around for a bit and contemplate my frustration with class. But it also got better, and I always went back to class a better student. Every class should have periodic breaks.

Arts and Letters. I had a lot of great classes here. Fun, insightful, thought-provoking classes in here.

But I go to Arts and Letters and only think about my time in ‘DePaul Dems’, and the other clubs that I joined during my time at DePaul. I think about my first ever meeting during Freshman year, where I sat quietly in the back of the row and didn’t know what to say. I remember my first time ever as President of that club, and how absolutely scared shitless I was. I remembered some of the stressful days, where I seriously considered quitting and giving up on politics as I knew it.

But then I remember the good days that I had in there, the good times when my friends in the club came to my aid and gave me hope. Gave me a reason to keep doing the work. And I think about my last meeting as President, how utterly emotionally devastated I was to leave but how hesitant I was to show it. You spend three years of your life with a certain group of people, and it hurts to let go. And fittingly enough I came back here a week ago and sat in on another meeting, with another group of leaders and members, and smiled from ear to ear at the end. There’s something valuable, so beautiful, in seeing the blossoms of a garden that you’ve helped grow. Being in Arts and Letters reminded me of how thankful that I was for it all.

The last and final stop of my walk is in the Quad, and by now the sun has fully descended beyond the horizon. The night has fallen, and the few stars that I can see litter the sky. Most of the nights that I’ve walked here have been accompanied by soundtracks, and playlists, and the occasional whistle. But silence is the song of tonight.

Back in High School, I used to spend the better parts of my evening sitting on a bench at Hartman park (our baseball park), watching the stars in the sky. I used to listen to music then, as I do now, but it was always the sight of the stars, and the enormity of their existence and distance in relation to us, that fully calmed my restless soul.

And so it was one night, sometime during Junior year of College, that I had found myself out on the rolling hills of the Quad, escaping an engagement that I didn’t want to attend. I laid on the grass, sprawled about and watching the stars again as their light danced around my pupils and filled me with nostalgia for the past. But it was more than nostalgia, it was an appreciation for the past, about the road that I’ve traveled and the young life that I’ve led. And, in an instant, all of my doubts and fears had vanished in the twinkle of a tear. I found myself there, if only for a little bit.

And I found myself here, in the Quad of my school, on the night of my last day of school. The air was biting and the wind was cold, but I took the familiar waltz to the rolling hills of the Quad, ever so barren from the winter that was beginning to take flight. I laid out again and watched the emerging stars pierce through the sky, forming thoughts in my eyes, and taking me back to the very beginning of my time here at DePaul. And what better way to reach the beginning than at the very end.

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3 thoughts on “My Last Day of School

  1. Beautiful, insightful, and something you’ll undoubtedly look back on from time to time with fond memory. Congrats Michael, looking forward to celebrating in June!

  2. Beautifully written! You’ve become quite the wordsmith, and an even more impressive young man. I have no doubt you’ll accomplish great things in this life, the sky’s the limit so THINK BIG!! 🙂

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