From the transfer kid

“December 2014. It’s the best you’ll be able to do. I’m sorry.” I was sitting in my appointment with my temporary advisor on “Transfer Student” day during 2011 Summer Welcome. There was a thin partition between me and another student, and I could hear the calculator adding up her credit hours, finalizing her verdict of “victory lap” or “four years, just under the wire.” Having come from a small private school on the west coast to a campus of nearly 35,000, I was already feeling like the kid at the reject lunch table.This approach to group together common outcasts was meant to make me feel at ease, but it seemed to me a tactic of extreme “othering.”

And now this. A semester behind, “the best I could do.” It was half a victory lap. A 200-meter dash. Honestly, I had been expecting worse, having come from a university on a quarter system, from which virtually none of my credits applied to a degree at the Missouri School of Journalism. But the advisor’s words reflected a negative note, as if I should have done better, as if the extra 200 meters meant the difference between a successful gold metal future and sweeping the discarded popcorn kernels in the stands.

Like any unrealistically driven writer-type, I set out to prove her wrong. I’d convinced myself that going to school in Seattle for a year had been the right choice, that there was nothing wrong with graduating late. I had grown rather fond of my December graduation date, somehow picturing a long dramatic exit across the quad, my diploma tucked under my arm, snowflakes lightly kissing my cheeks as I bid adieu to Francis and his prominent copper sniffer. A small part of me still felt like the “transfer kid,” used to figuring things out alone.

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I hate myself for not being able to come up with another film to reference being happily sequestered in a winter wonderland.

I hadn’t thought about that day and that advisor until recently, when talk of graduation became prevalent around RJI and Lee Hills Hall. Last Tuesday, in my Advanced Writing class, my professor, Mary Kay Blakely, reminded us that this would be her last lecture before retiring. My friend Claire attempted to sooth the somber mood by saying, ‘But it’s like we’re all retiring with you, MK. We’re all graduating.” I shifted in my seat, remembering my “graduation sentence” on “Transfer” day in 2011. Somewhere during this school year, I had become dependent on the people in and beyond that classroom at Mizzou. Suddenly I imagined my graceful, snowy exit to be a lot colder and lonelier, with a few stumbles through the icy columns.

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This image from The French Lieutenant’s Woman evokes every feeling of loneliness ever.

A few minutes later, MK asked if we had any last questions for her, any last wishes for nuggets of wisdom before she left the world of academia for a life of what we all assumed would be no less than total bad-assness. I managed to ask a question about how to balance my writer and editor selves, who are equally competitive and stubbornly opposed about the necessity of a properly placed comma.

MK answered my question with what I’m sure was brilliant wisdom; when I begin my job search in a few months, I know I’ll wish I had listened closer. But in that moment, a single tear made its way out of my eye. I have no idea why this happens, and it sounds so melodramatic, but it’s always the one tear that starts it all. I reached for my pen and notepad, pretending to take notes, hoping MK wouldn’t notice my shoulders slightly bobbing as the other eye began to follow suit. A few days before, my aunt had shared an NPR video of a 6-year-old boy’s advice to a terrified soon-to-be college grad that harkened back to the “My Favorite Things” approach from The Sound of Music. Except it was cuter and involved more food. He says, “When the scared feeling comes into you, the scared is scared of all things you like. So, when I was scared of monsters I thought of juice. And some meringues and a cookie—a chocolate chip cookie.” Then he says he’s hungry for cookies and pizza and red sauce. Naturally.

While I was scribbling and trying to avoid watery eye contact with MK, I took some advice from this brilliant 6-year-old and wrote down all the things I like and the people I will miss:

  • With Beth Steffens: Meeting Tom Hanks and stuffing our faces with Shake Shack in New York, Skyping from my London flat, making unidentifiable noises in the J-School
  • Nearly getting mauled by crazy royal baby fans at Buckingham Palace with Jennifer Liu
  • With Kari Paul: Staying up until 3 a.m. reading and writing cover letters and eating hot Cheetos. Being ashamed of said hot Cheetos. Buying them again anyway. Knowing she won’t judge about the hot Cheetos or anything ever.
  • Seeing Sapna Khatri, Elle Hoffman, Hannah Schmidt or any of my other London crew on a day when I most need to say a British word or two
  • With Kylee Mattoon: Being unable to open a bottle of wine for a solid 20 minutes. Crying. Contemplating breaking bottle of wine. Screaming with laughter when victorious.
  • Shoving aside to-do lists to make dinner and enjoy the company of a kitten with Shelby Feistner
  • Kaldi’s grammar sessions with Caroline Michler
  • Spontaneously joining Shelby Muff and Kristi Luther for a midnight birthday celebration
  • Hugs from Claire Landsbaum on a random Tuesday
  • MK’s lectures, MK’s stories
  • With Lauren Hill: driving six hours to Bloomington, Indiana, almost throwing up while anxiously awaiting meeting Meryl Streep, musical nights joined by Tori Meador and Mary Elgin
  • Googling cheap flights to anywhere but here, eating pasta imported from Italy and doing general old lady nonsense with Chelsea Bengier
  • Knowing any of these people are in my life

 

After I made this list, not only did I prove that “scared is scared of all the things you like,” but that my transfer advisor had been right. Three and-a-half years was the best I could do at Mizzou. And I’m not sure it could get any better. Here’s to one more semester and a snowy, happy exit. 

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Because every snow scene should look like this one from Meet Me in St. Louis.