Opinion: Mission Hundred Days: Day 36

“Returning [to Canisius] made me grateful for the smallest people and places that I never would have noticed or appreciated previously. There were bumps in the road on my journey back to school, but every lesson was truly a gift.”

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Amanda Popovski poses after speaking at a CEO meeting. Credit: Amanda Popovski

How do you write one of these things?

How do you sit here and sum up in words the past four years of your life? 

I feel like I’m holding a microphone and there’s that awful feedback loop sound, screeeech, and you’re here listening to me, and I need to have something to say. Especially now, in the midst of all . . . this.

The problem is, I’m not sure if I actually do have anything fresh or new to say about the collegiate experience. I’ve been a commuter, an RA, a student leader, a Dean’s lister, an avid user of the library’s meditation room and a frequent flyer on the fourth floor of Old Main. Many Tim Horton’s egg & cheese on English muffins and trays of Market sushi have sustained me. I’ve been to one hockey game and half of a soccer game. I’ve trekked from the ramp to Old Main and back more times than I could count, lunchbox swinging, fingers freezing, backpack weighing heavy on my shoulders.

I do have one thing, though, that I think can provide a new perspective for readers, and it’s that I dropped out of Canisius College.

Well, okay… I didn’t drop out drop out. It’s not even obvious from an outside perspective. In May of my junior year I packed my crap from my apartment in Delevan, where I’d spent my first and only year on campus as an RA, and in August of my senior year I returned as a commuter. My transcript doesn’t show a leave of absence. I didn’t lose any scholarships or credits. It’s kind of like it never happened.

But it happened for me.

I started a small entrepreneurial endeavor as a life coach in November of 2018. I’d taken a few online courses and read my fair share of self-help books- I thought I’d give it a shot. Through fall semester and into that spring semester I felt like school just wasn’t the place for me, and I wanted to leap into the unknown and expand into a full-blown biznazz.

Despite my decent GPA and natural attraction to higher education, I thought I’d be far better suited in the real world doing real world things and struggling like a real person should. I decided to submit a leave of absence, which is an opportunity for students to take up to two semester’s leave while the college freezes their scholarships and credits. I ignored my professors’ concerned looks, my mentors’ texts of confusion, and my family’s pleading and instead embraced the eagerness with which my peers addressed me, excited for me to take control of my life and spring forward against the status quo (millennials, am I right?).

Except… that’s not what happened. I didn’t accomplish anything I’d wanted to do that summer. More accurately, I sat around twirling my hair around my finger waiting for success and accomplishments to come my way instead of, well, getting off my ass to get them.

One early August evening I was sitting in my kitchen, moping about, watching my dad flip a burger or something. We’d had some pretty tense conversations about the whole leaving school thing- taking his perspective, I completely understand why- but we’d cooled off as fall approached. He cleared his throat- sssss went the burger in the pan- and asked about my FAFSA. “It might be a good idea just to file,” he’d said. Before I could roll my eyes and tell him, yet again, that it was my decision to leave school and I’m sticking to it, my intuition socked me in the gut. It soon became quite clear that as much as leaving school was embedded in my path, the tail-between-my-legs BEYOND embarrassing act of returning was just as stuck there. 

I re-enrolled the next day.

That’s all dramatic boring stuff, blah blah whatever- what I really want to say is that it took me a second to swallow my pride, but when I did, I saw campus with completely fresh eyes. At the homecoming bonfire I squealed so much my voice hurt seeing the people I’d forgotten I loved so much. I’d forgotten how good it felt to speak Spanish, write papers (nerd alert!), read novels. I’d forgotten about the Griffin clubroom and the calming flyers on the pinboard in The Counseling Center. And sometimes, if the timing was just right, I was struck with the vibrancy of the energy of Canisius, the lovely people, staff, students who are the lifeline of that campus, and thought, “These are my people.” 

I’m not going to pretend to be this weathered veteran of the real world or anything- we’ve all had endless summers and we’ve all felt like failures before. But I do think it’s interesting to leave an institution kicking and screaming, your ego vowing to never step foot here again, and then, um, step foot here again. Returning made me grateful for the smallest people and places that I never would have noticed or appreciated previously. There were bumps in the road on my journey back to school, but every lesson was truly a gift.

I would ask you with this in mind to look at Canisius with fresh eyes, but something tells me that you may have done so already as you’re far from campus, friends, and dining hall quesadillas in your respective quarantine station. I’d say let’s look forward to one last hurrah during Griff Fest, Senior Week and our commencement ceremony, but, well, we’ll have to wait.

In a way, I don’t know, it feels kind of cool that we’re shaking things up. Did you hear about the class of 2020? They didn’t walk across the stage until October! When we all reconvene on October 10th we’ll have already experienced “post-grad” life for five months. Five whole months! You know what can happen in five months? Five days? Five seconds?

I feel good imagining that when we’re reunited in person, there’ll be talk of “What’d you do this summer?” and “What was your quarantine like?” and “Dude, how have you been? It’s so good to see you.” The cool thing about seeing each other one last time is that we’ll actually be seeing each other one last time, having had a proper mourning period and having had time to properly miss each other. Commencement won’t be a rushed goodbye, the end of a whirlwind of (boozy) farewell activities. It will have had the chance to marinate, this ceremony. It will have had the chance to be missed and thus be meaningful.

And on that Saturday in October we’ll all shower (I hope), clean up nice, pull gowns out of the closet we didn’t think we’d get to see, take pictures with our family. We’ll step out of the car or bus onto Canisius grounds again, into brisk October air and think about the last time we were here, during a crisis of global and emotional measures.

And if we’re careful, if we’re really quiet and observant, right before our names are called to distribute our diplomas we’ll hear that voice that all of us have, that all of us crave, and that all of us can access- the voice of love. And it’ll say, “You did it. It didn’t turn out how you thought it would, but by God it turned out. All those late nights, those early mornings, countless hours in the car from campus to work, crying from stress, laughing with friends. You walked in here a girl and you walked out a woman. Chin up, kid. You did it. Let’s go.”

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