I’ll begin with the chairs. My plan had been to run some errands and then find a shady park bench on Harper Quad to read a couple of chapters of my book (The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk). My finals were done, my room half-packed, my time blissfully unscheduled. I have an obsession with the Main Quad because even after four years, I’ve never gotten over the fact that it’s just so pretty. In all seasons–covered with snow, dressed with bright flowers, slick with muddy rain–there’s just no getting over the majestically gorgeous buildings, the neat diagonal walkways, the careful landscaping. Which brings me back to the chairs that they started setting up for Convocation. As I walked across the Quad, there were strange people setting up rows of plastic folding chairs, an invasion of ugly lawn furniture in the places where students once threw frisbees and read Freud in the afternoon sun. Last week, it had been the white marquees and tents for Alumni Weekend, and when I finally reach Harper Quad, I discover that the benches had already been taken away. When I finally decided to go home, I walked by those chairs again, more annoyed and upset about their presence than I could have expected them to be.
Mostly, it’s because I wanted the Quad to look exactly how I always want to remember it–those sunny afternoons after class that I spent on those shade-covered park benches, eating lunch or dodging the occasional wasp while I finished my Turkish homework, notebook open on my lap. There were also the times during the winter when I walked from the Reg from office hours or a newly checked-out book in my bag to Harper, the snow-covered lamps and the aching cold catching my breath. Autumn was always my favorite season. There is a peculiar kind of joy that can only be found when you walk to class surrounded by the bold, blazing colors of aging ivy and fallen leaves.
If you asked me what I love so much about UChicago, I would give you all these fragments. The iced teas and hot chocolates I’ve bought from the Div School cafe, where the drinks are always better and twenty-five cents cheaper. Those terrifyingly old couches in the Breck lounge where I spent staying up talking to my friends until the sun rose, just because I could. The stacks of the Reg, where it was easy to get lost in so many different ways. How we walked in the frozen streets after Snowpocalypse to grab dinner at the dining hall. The awe that came from learning my Civ professor chatted weekly with Sartre in the Parisian cafes on the Left Bank. All the tacos, lasagna, and stir-fried chicken that I made and shared with my roommates around our island counter.
There are the things I learned. Facts, figures, Foucault. My bookshelf testifies to the knowledge that is now lodged somewhere in my brain. But there are other things too. I have also discovered that yes, I can write a 12-page paper if given twenty-four hours and an absolute deadline. It is also possible not to feel the cold if you wear enough layers. Along the way, I’ve learned how to distill a life’s worth of belongings into a couple of cardboard boxes, how to run across a busy intersection to catch a bus, how to gracefully cry in a public place, how lucky it is to have perfect timing on the CTA. I’ve learned about how capable I actually am, even when everything seems to be crumbling like dry cookie dough (and in most cases, everything is never that messy anyway).
Perhaps most importantly, there are the people, especially those crazy brilliant kids who I have the honor of calling my friends. It’s cliche to call anyone unique, but I think I’ve found the group of people who fit the definition. I can always count on them for a clever pun and a get-out-of-Hyde-Park adventure. They are just as excited as I am when I chatter on about a book I’m reading for class or a weird factoid that I discovered on the Internet (or at the very least, they humor me for which I will always be grateful). They will argue with me when I’m wrong. They are cosmopolitan–we’ll be scattered across three continents next year. They know so much about so many things. There have been too many moments to count when I’m simply so happy that they have made their way into my life.
I’ve spent a week writing this note, piecing it together sentence by sentence during the few short breaks I had to myself. I realize now that this is not really a love letter in any traditional sense, but I will say that my four years here at UChicago have still been a love story of sorts. I can’t imagine my life without this place constantly hovering in my mind. I’ve grown more than a little attached, and Convocation, with all its goodbyes and separation, will hurt my heart. But this heartache is to be expected if you’re leaving a place that has felt so much like home. My four years were an education in every possible sense of the word. It has been such a privilege to have lived through all of this.