Not until the morning of April 26, the last Sunday I spent in Athens, OH, did it hit me: graduation was only six days away. Of course I knew my time was limited, but reality had finally slapped me cold in the face. This was the end, whether I liked it or not. As the week continued I took several walks around campus, to savor every remaining second I had left here. In this time, I came to a stark revelation.
On Tuesday, as I approached South Beach and breathed in South Green’s congested underclassmen atmosphere, I remembered how refined the campus’ love of bricks made our school look and how much Nelson Hall changed in four years thanks to remodeling. I couldn’t believe it was the same place.
I also remembered how much Ohio University students — freshmen to seniors —embrace their unconventional selves. Faded celebrities like Frankie Muniz and Aaron Carter, as well as Vine star — if such a term exists — Logan Paul, made students flock to this exact spot as if the president were here (He was, my sophomore year). Students unleashed their inner child with temporary zoos, circuses and moonwalks held on this very grass, and these only were a couple affectionately quaint events hosted in this rural town.
I’ve adored OU’s sweet oddities since before freshman year, yet I took for granted how the campus could be both foreign and welcoming all at once. In Athens, at first many things appear odd or almost outdated, but the town’s liberal open-mindedness made anything and everything appear not only possible but also acceptable —so long as nobody got hurt, of course. Now these touches were so very apparent to me again.
As the memories swept in like a Kansas tornado, I could barely take four steps without reminiscing something funny, sad, weird or transformative that happened to me here. I began to ask myself just how unacceptable it would be to openly weep in the middle of the sidewalk on a Tuesday at 2 p.m. Although I guess weirder things happened here before, and I’ve probably done worse.
Passing Athens Book Center on Wednesday, I remembered walking in freshman year with an unexpected nosebleed and trying not to give off a serial killer vibe as I asked about the bathroom. Later on Thursday, upon crossing the Union Street Market, I recalled the time my friend and I endured an unwanted economic lecture from a sports car-driving, middle-aged man inexplicably holding four plastic bags of bread. And whenever my favorite bars were in view, more than a few moments —good and bad — poured back like the beers that made the memories come or disappear in the first place.
Even now, it’s honestly too early to judge whether or not I lived these four years to their fullest potential. I learned a lot, grew in many ways and have more than a few regrets. Yet, if given the choice, I wouldn’t change many experiences. This goes beyond the butterfly effect. While the four years went by much too quickly, knowing I had these memories, moments and friends at all is immensely satisfying to me. I am who I am today because I went to Ohio University.
OU is where I first attended and covered a film festival, had my first podcast, cigarette, column, Blood Mary — and this can never change. Though as I walked by my fellow underclassmen and some incoming freshmen in my midst, I wanted so badly to tell them what my peers neglected to teach me. Between twinges of jealousy and affection, I felt it vital urge them to take advantage of every second they have left.
Walking past Alden library, I remember my frequent visits, but I was also reminded of all the times I decided not to trek there, or even step outside at all, as I stayed close-guarded inside my James or Shively Hall dorm. I also thought back to the times when I’d go to the movies rather than attend a nearby party.
Soon I even tried to count how many times I went to a dining hall over enjoying the local Athens cuisine. I don’t begrudge these decisions. They served me well. I saw some good movies. I got my work done, and had some pretty good grades to boot. I even liked the dining hall food. Yet I couldn’t help but think that my time at OU would be even better were I more willing to explore my options.
As I remembered my times at Ohio University, I realized the takeaway wasn’t just to make the most of each moment, but rather to know how to make the most of every moment. That’s what I learned mattered most. It wasn’t what we did or even what people were there sometimes — it was, how we made the moments memorable, fun and worth every minute, penny and occasional scar involved.
Sitting on a bench near West State, thinking about all this and reminiscing about freshmen year, I wished my revelation came earlier. My time at OU would have been even better than it was, and in truth I’d probably be a more open-minded, cultured and experienced person thanks to all the opportunities my freedom would bring. I could say I did all the things I wanted to do, checked every list I had and drained Athens for all its worth. My college years turned out good and well, but truthfully I could have pushed myself a little bit more.
Despite some stress and the occasional bad memory, these past four years were easily among the best in my life. College is where I discovered how much I love film over digital, Leinenkugel’s over Natty Light and the joy of a 2 a.m. burrito, and that’s worth any student debts I’ll pay for the rest of my life — I’ll say that for now, at least.
As I made my final Athens trek to graduate in my cap-and-gown and passed a few more students, I was reminded one last time how great college was in all its fun and advantageous ways. But I hope current undergrads learn, before I ultimately did, to never be afraid to try something different or go somewhere new, physically or psychologically. If they do, they can write their own stories and cherish the memories as they take their own final walks in Athens, regret-free.