commencement_lilysamuelsIt seems like I’ve been saying goodbye to Smith for months now. Taking special note of the angles of buildings and the slopes of roofs. Paying particular attention to the tones of my professors’ voices. Memorizing the faces of various dining hall staff, who have been so gracious in filling my early morning coffee needs. Closing my eyes and soaking in the atmosphere of the periodicals rooms on the third floor of Neilson Library—a vaulted, mahogany-colored space that, incidentally, I only frequent during Reading Period, but that I love devotedly in my academic heart.

There is a feeling on campus—brought on, I assume, by the graduating class of seniors—of hushed waiting, as if hundreds of breaths are bated. Some of the collective exhale will come at Commencement on May 15, to be sure, in a loud roar of exuberance and celebration. But I think the remainder of breath will be released on May 16, as seniors finish last-minute packing, lock rooms behind them and walk out the door of their houses for the last time. This exhale, I imagine, will be more of a sigh.

I don’t pretend that this is easy, this “leaving” business. Of course, we who are graduating have plenty to look forward to; Smithies have a knack for finding impressive and enriching diversions after graduation. As for me, I’m happily going (okay, running, that is) back home to my partner and his son, ready to complete our family of three while I work on my master’s degree. Despite a plan, I can’t manage to keep the lump out of my throat or the apprehension out of my voice when I talk about the fact that soon I’ll be an alumna—not a student, not a visitor, not a resident.

For so many students, this campus has become an intellectual haven, a warm home, and a safe place in which to self-discover. Far from perfect, Smith has a way of coming to mirror its students—flawed, complicated, and utterly charming. To leave it can feel like a great loss, regardless of the excitement and promise of our next phase.

Words like “loss,” “ending” and “leaving” carry with them very real—sometimes negative—emotional connotations, and we are encouraged by society to maintain control and deal with them calmly. But if there is one thing Smith has taught me, it’s that it often makes more sense to reflect and wonder and worry and converse than to swallow hard and pretend that silence is synonymous with strength.

Ironically, it was a walk around this campus that brought me to the realization that I could leave without losing the part of myself that is inextricably tied to Smith. It was during the pre-dinner hush of late afternoon several days ago. I was walking up campus from behind Seelye Hall when I saw a dear professor of mine exiting the building several hundred feet ahead. He was far enough away so that calling out would have been awkward and uncouth, but close enough that I wanted to walk with him. Maybe we would recall the semester and have a laugh, I imagined, or maybe just walk in comfortable silence together. But I couldn’t. So I walked alone, staring a bit numbly at his back, fearing that this was the beginning of a series of severances I would have to make as I prepare to leave Smith.

After several minutes I looked at the pavement and realized I was treading the same path my professor had taken moments before. It was a small, silly thought, but it was profoundly comforting. In a way, I was walking with him.

I considered its significance. In the coming years, my professors, fellow Smithies and I will seldom walk side-by-side, collaborate, exchange ideas and learn from each other as we have for the past four years. The space between us may widen, but we need never walk alone.

This college will always connect us.