Reflections of a Graduating Senior
I sit isolated in my apartment a mere 400 feet from Samford Hall – from normalcy. I knew this day, this last day of being a student, would come and admittedly I wanted it, but I didn’t think it had already happened. In one email the 51 days that stood between me and graduation fell to zero and my Auburn career effectively ended, leaving me feeling utterly incomplete.
Grappling with this lack of closure is one of the strangest feelings amidst a scenario we saw coming yet for which we remained emotionally unprepared. A little over a week after our initial move to Zoom, it finally all hit when a fading glimmer of hope in the form of commencement was “postponed.” In a way, knowing I will likely not walk across the stage to pick up an empty diploma cover has provided a sense of ease, though I wish it was definite, because now we face reality.
Reflecting on the whirlwind of the past four years on the Plains has been a tearful experience in both good and bad ways, but now I choose to embrace the finality of the situation and accept my degree unceremoniously or without a proper farewell to those whom I have come to admire greatly.
Today I repeat one sentiment in moving forward: I choose to remember what this experience has been rather than dwell on what was to come.
In August of 2016, Auburn resembled a small town on the cusp of massive growth. Judging by what feels like the twentieth appearance of a new apartment complex and the ever-growing length of construction fencing on campus, the explosive evolution got a bit out of hand. The buildings some of us used almost daily were but sketches when our careers began.
That year we proved largely unremarkable on the field and court yet with a ceaseless sensation of hope that next year would be our time to shine. Sean White was the quarterback and hearing that name feels like it was a lifetime ago because in many ways it was. To many of us that now move away from the Plains, this was our first taste of Auburn and what it meant to be a student on this campus. My hair was short and I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life – at least one of those things has changed over time.
As a family we have had a notably unique Auburn experience. In 2017 we walked the concourse as presumably seasoned yet wide-eyed freshmen, and so did Richard Spencer with the morally fueled protests and national headlines that followed. Dr. Gogue stepped down as university president and the short-lived tenure of Dr. Leath ensued.
Fall began with an eerie shadow and chill across campus as an almost total solar eclipse overtook the first day of class. A riveting season unfolded in Jordan-Hare as the Tigers went undefeated at home. I will never forget the energy I felt walking into the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry in early November; the stadium felt electric and I had a feeling in my gut that we might just walk away victorious against the number one team in the nation. I might not remember what happened on the field, but I know I walked back to my apartment hours later with ringing ears and toilet paper stuck to my shoe. Fast forward to a few weeks later as we leapt over a wall and into hedges when Auburn did the impossible and beat Alabama, the second top-ranked team to leave Pat Dye Field defeated. I narrowly avoided a twisted ankle and being trampled as I ran to the 50-yard line unfazed by my lack of athletic ability or stamina and fueled by pure adrenaline.
My head reels in processing that all of that was almost three years ago but I am not sure if it’s because time flew or if it moved in slow motion. Somehow, it feels contradictorily like it was both.
2018 casted snow on the Plains as a blanket of white covered Samford Lawn in a picturesque scene befitting a Hallmark movie. Melissa McCarthy and more celebrities took over Toomer’s Corner and an AMC theater near us for the red-carpet premiere of their feature film “Life of the Party.” To say this was a strange experience would be an understatement, and I am blissfully unaware if this was as prevalent of a memory for others as it was for me.
Pete Davidson took to the Student Center Ballroom as fall began and triggered student hysteria as then fiancé Ariana Grande tagged along. The long lines for Davidson’s show brought flashbacks to Tim Cook’s time on campus the previous year and unknowingly foreshadowed the lengthy queue for events to come across campus.
Later that year a new era emerged in Auburn history – we became a basketball school. Bruce Pearl led us all on a rollercoaster ride all the way through March of 2019 as students trekked to Minneapolis to see the Tiger’s take the court in the Final Four. I watched history unfold on a laptop screen as I sold steeply priced popsicles in downtown Auburn. As the seconds ticked away in the second half, strangers held their breath alongside me as business fell to a screeching halt. Fans that stayed on the Plains congregated inside and outside bars to celebrate what we thought was our ticket to the national championship; seeing the hordes of people sprint to roll the oaks only to realize what had happened was heart wrenching. Nevertheless, Auburn celebrated and continues to cherish the fact we had made history, but I’ll say it one last time for posterity – Virginia double-dribbled.
Riding high, senior year began. We started our “lasts” and looked ahead eagerly and anxiously at what lay ahead. In November we stormed Pat Dye Field – again. We partied and napped and debated whether going to class was actually worth it; senioritis is a real problem.
Spring brought a new decade and a flurry of feelings that today culminates in the conclusion of our journey. The extraordinary circumstance we now face is difficult to fathom and realize, but though it hurts today to be deprived of closure, the university’s decision to suspend congregations on campus is just.
I did not write this to tell my story, I wrote these words to give myself peace in this unprecedented situation and hopefully articulate what my fellow soon-to-be graduates are feeling. I presume to speak on behalf of many when I say thank you to the professors, advisors and friends that make Auburn special. Through the good times and bad, the Loveliest Village on the Plains has become a temporary home that has aided in molding me into the person I am today and helped define who I want to become.
These thousand words can only begin to encapsulate the broad experience we have all shared, but I believe it can all be summarized in one notable experience I had. When we jumped over the hedges for the second time, I made my way across the field with somewhat less vigor than before. Among the chaos, a girl I had never seen before looked at me with an expression of unbridled joy and screamed that this experience was “once in a lifetime,” and in that moment I could only think how I had done this before. However, in reflection I understand her elation, because overall we, the spring class of 2020, have experienced more than many alumni could have dreamed. I leave this place with unparalleled memories and a self-actualized sense of closure in knowing that our journey has truly been once in a lifetime.