Saying goodbyes

These last couple of days have been pretty sad. The Class of 2008 is done with their business here in Champaign-Urbana, with a couple of exceptions, one of them notably being me. So while all my buddies and friends prepare for life in the real world, or heaven forbid, more school in the form of grad school, I’m left behind with still one more semester to go before I graduate with my degree.

On Thursday, I had a BBQ and movie night, and I invited as many people as I could remember (and still had cell phone numbers for) from my freshman year of college. Anyone else who was still in town on Thursday was invited as well, which included a couple of juniors. But the main focus was to get the old gang from freshman year back together for one last get-together before we scattered away from the U of I.

For the event, I bought $83 worth of food, a cost conveniently covered by the money I received when I sold my textbooks. There were burgers, brats, chicken, and corn, all grilled outside in chilly weather which thankfully at least stopped raining by the time the grilling started.

The first guests over were the younger guests. I spent most of my time grilling food for about one and a half hours while my guests milled around in the basement hanging out. Finally, after all of the food was done, I went inside and chilled with people until two hours into the party, when some people left early because they still had exams on Friday. Up to this point, the only people from my freshman year that had showed up were Blaser, Neal, Sunah, and KTB. I had invited over ten people from my freshman year days over to my house. Where were they?

Christie then arrived, bringing with her a friend and a 12-pack of beer that gracefully replaced the now-finished 6-pack of Blue Moon that Noah had brought along. Then Issac finally came by, having skateboarded some 4+ miles from his apartment in Champaign to my house! As things settled down, I set up the movie theater and put the movie Serenity into the DVD player.

Just as the movie started, there was one more doorbell ring at the front door. Finally, the rest of the guys from freshman year showed up: Kaylan, Speagle, and Griffeth. For most of the school year, I had not seen Griffeth or Speagle at all; in fact, I hadn’t seen Speagle in almost two years. It was difficult for me to track both him and Griffeth down, but to make this reunion work, the two of them, in addition to my freshman year roommates Kaylan and Blaser, had to be present.

After a large round of hugs, most of us guys sat down at the basement bar and ate and caught up on what everybody had been up to, and what was next. I started the movie in the basement theater for the guests who wanted to watch the movie immediately, and then joined the guys for a round of beers and talk as to what was going on.

After about an hour of reminiscing and speculating as to what the future held, we all joined the rest of the guests in the basement theater room to watch the latter half of Serenity. The off-color comments from KTB and Speagle were hilarious. I’m going to miss hearing those remarks. The chatter that came about edging two characters in the movie to have sex in the middle of a firefight was hilarious.

Like all good things, the evening had to come to an end. It didn’t quite hit me at the time that some of these people I wouldn’t see for a long, long time. So during goodbyes, I didn’t appear to melancholy. I suppose I was still thinking at the time that meeting up with people would still be as simple as stopping by their apartment or meeting them up for lunch, which I guess is still the case now, just harder to do.

Now my mind is just wandering off. I’m not fully experiencing any sort of deep sorrow that people are leaving, just a resignation that it’s going to be harder to visit people. Maybe in a year or two, when the difficulties in keeping touch finally hit me, the reality will make me depressed. I’m still thinking that I’ll be able to see everyone in the future, so that these final days together aren’t a goodbye, just more of a prolonged “see you later.”

There was one person that I didn’t see at my BBQ on Thursday that I had to see one last time before he left, and that was Eric. Eric was going to some bars in downtown Champaign on Friday with the people he met during his freshman year, and I decided that I would join him for a little while to chat.

I met Eric and Blake at the bar Guido’s. Blake is in the same boat as I am; he, too, still has one more semester to go before he can get his degree. Therefore the only person I was saying goodbye to that evening would be Eric.

I had a single glass of some shitty Coors Light beer that lasted me over two hours. I drank a bit and then promptly forgot about the drink as I chatted with Eric and his Norwegian friend about politics and cultural differences between Europe and the States. My final minutes of the night were steeped in useless banter back and forth between Blake, Eric, and surprisingly, Adam, who randomly dropped in without knowing about our presence there beforehand. At 10:30, I had to head back home because of some errands that I had to run on Saturday, starting at 6 in the morning.

Sunday was the day of the U of I’s graduation ceremonies. I didn’t bother going to the campus-wide commencement and just attended the College of Engineering commencement. The ceremony took place in Assembly Hall, and I arrived just as all of the graduates finished shuffling into the arena.

I listened to the speakers, who were really quite dull. All they seemed to talk about were the achievements of past U of I alumni and how that indicated that this alumni class was bound to do something great. Which I suppose makes sense. But I’ve always thought that a graduation speech needed to put some more emphasis on the “goodbye” aspect of leaving the school — how to keep touch with friends, faculty, and the school — because I always thought that this was what made graduating so difficult for a lot of people. Also, some feel-good words about how even the most average engineering student can do great things would be nice. I’m a pretty average engineering student, and at times it feels like that compared to some of my peers, I can’t really do anything exceptional or do some world-changing duty or action.

The names of all the graduates in attendance started, and right away, the spectacle devolved into a shouting match as to which graduate’s friends and family cheering section was the loudest. There was one section of the stadium that was particularly rowdy, with air horns blasting in addition to the claps and screams of supporters when names were called out over the microphone. I lent my voice to the cheers of Steve and Eric as they walked across the stage. The guy at the microphone, predictably, managed to mispronounce Eric’s last name, and I made sure that everyone in Assembly Hall could hear the true pronunciation of his name.

I had a set of binoculars with me that I used to zoom in on the graduates’ faces and watch their expressions as they accepted their “diplomas” (just diploma covers, actually). My binoculars fell upon some faces that I had not seen in a long time — people that I had met in my early years at the U of I but subsequently lost in touch with, and people from my high school which whom I no longer communicated with. Sometimes I regret not having interacted with these people more, as now it’s too late to reconnect before distance permanently severs what connection we had before.

When the ceremony was finished, I walked straight back to my car and drove back home. There were too many people crowding the walkways of Assembly Hall, and the probability of me finding my friends was slim to none. It would have been nice to say goodbye one more time, but it was not to be.