AoM Journaling Challenge Day 20: On Nostalgia & Grad School

Grad School, College, Penn State, Self-discovery, Gates

Babies bring life delays everywhere, force you to prioritize time in different ways, and consider the past and the future. I put the daily challenge on hold until things were a little more stable, but here we are:

Today’s AoM Journaling Challenge:

Think about the period of your life in which you have the greatest nostalgia for. For me, it’s definitely college. Staying up late with friends, being forced to be creative with date ideas because I didn’t have any money, doing nothing but learning all day long…it was fantastic. Once you identify that time period, think of why you’re so nostalgic about it. There’s a good chance that there’s something from that time that you’d like to regain or recapture. Maybe you realize the importance of having close friends, or perhaps you’ll come to understand your desire to be a lifelong learner. Nostalgia can be healthy if reflected on and not obsessed over. You may not be able to recapture the past exactly (see Jay Gatsby), but there are elements of it that may make you a happier fellow.

Graduate school holds the most nostalgia for me because it represents my independence; making it out in the world using my own resources. Even the journey of moving to Pennsylvania was an exercise in independence.

Grad school was when I officially was able to move away from home. I wasn’t a nomad couch-hopping crashing at friends homes in exchange for cooking and cleaning for them like I did for two months after I graduated college. I had gotten accepted to Penn State, had a part-time job as a graduate assistant, and an apartment where I paid $815 a month or just around a dollar a square foot. My apartment was actually the only thing I took out a student loan for since my stipend wasn’t able to cover the cost of the rent. It was technically more space than I needed, but it allowed me the room to entertain. I wouldn’t have traded my experiences in that apartment for anything. It was home and for the 19 months I lived in Pennsylvania that space saw me through some of my highest highs and lowest lows.

Grad school gave me the time and space to grow and pursue things I had put on hold for too long. It’s not that I had a horrible life in Connecticut or that I wasn’t happy. I didn’t have family that was directly holding me back in Connecticut from following my dreams. It was actually the contrary. Yet, moving away allowed me to discover things about myself that I wasn’t getting as quickly as I needed back home, like being able to live alone. I had the space and time to focus on some personal soul-searching that I needed to do before I could seriously consider the next big phases of my life like marriage or parenthood.

I took the bartending class I’d never could find the time for while I lived in Connecticut. I traveled across the U.S. and even to new continents. I was able to find new communities where I belonged, whether it was with my graduate school cohort, my new-found friends, or the Latin dance community I became part of. These various communities taught me that I had reaffirmed that I had value and stores of strength I didn’t know I had. Grad school was where I cast off my parts of my old self that I had carried around for far too long. It was where I found new strengths and learned to love parts of myself I had neglected and discovered whole new aspects of myself to love.

Grad school was a personal crucible of sorts forcing me to learn, adapt, and grow. I was still me when I finished, but a wiser me, a bigger me. In many ways, I was more myself than I had ever allowed myself to be before I left.

While I have nostalgia for all that I experienced in grad school, I know it is a place that I can’t return to. People I met there have moved on to continue their own lives. Some I still get to visit with every year or so and with others we have satisfied ourselves with Facebook messages, texted memes and inside jokes, and holiday cards showing that we still care as life hurtles us forward on separate paths. Just this morning I learned that part of the apartment complex I lived in burned down. Last time I visited, I saw that the hay and soybean field where I watched so many sunsets before walking home on weekends or before going to night classes had been made into a student housing complex. The original field and one of its sunset exists, fixed in time, as a 5×15 foam core image I have boxed because I still need to buy a new frame for it.

Nostalgia for grad school reminds me of what was and who I was. It reminds me of my perseverance, and determination, my self-worth, the support I had and still have as resources. It serves as a reminder of the tools and skills that I have that make me who I am today and that I still use each day. It always brings memories that provide me a small smile or chuckle.

[Some Patrick Stump because this song came out when I was in grad school and I’m a sucker for great ear candy that fits my moods.]

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