By Matilda Swartz
I write to you from my non-cubicle in a smallish office in Chicago, during workday hours. The two most notable items on top of my desk (other than the small plant I’ve kept alive since June—a proud accomplishment and sure sign of adulthood) are a Phillies cup-turned-penholder and a University mouse pad. I admittedly suffer the daily palpitation of nostalgia that pulls my mind back to the stairs in Tolentine or the old opposite-gender curfews in Katharine Hall. Being in the Midwest, a beast of its own (and not just because of the winters), always seems to conjure comparisons to the place and people that helped mold me into the reluctant 22-year-old that I am today.
This time last year, I committed to the “practical” decision: to graduate a semester early, shoot crap on a full-time job I felt only half-prepared for, and move back in with Mom, Dad and the dog. I don’t regret my decision, and I consider myself one of the lucky ones to be working and (finally) renting my own room with a (semi-obstructed) view of Lake Michigan.
But I’ve been removed from that castle on Lancaster Avenue for almost a calendar cycle, and as someone who is gradually learning that you can’t slow down the passage of time, I’m urging you–student, professor or TA, super senior or early grad—to grab someone you can stand to be around for an hour or two, and take a walk.
Meet by the train stop, the R5 tracks for all you traditionalists out there, and walk past Mendel Field. It’s beautiful in November. The grass is bone dry and the ice that you’ll slip on at least once in your time there has yet to freeze. Head toward the quad and inhale the patriotic smell of filtered Marlboros and Victoria’s Secret body spray–you’ll miss it once you’re gone. Cross diagonally at the corner of Ithan Ave. and Lancaster Ave. (the pedestrian chirps need not be sounding, but make sure the lanes are empty) and head east.
You’ll pass Barley Cone Lane and then things start to get real. The next mile until CVS is sightless, so go nuts. Test your ability to recite Kendrick Lamar lyrics together. Look for the track team that will inevitably fly by. Talk about how scared you are to wear a cap and gown. This is good.
After you hit that steep incline, head into CVS and spend an unjustified amount of money on things you don’t need. Cosmopolitan, Fritos and hair dye if your life is feeling abnormally monotonous. Cross the street again and treat your companion to a Hope’s cookie or three. You’re still a sport if you use your Wildcard; it’s the thought that counts. He or she will pay you back with a no-judgment policy when you decide you need a slice of Peace-a-Pizza’s mac-and-cheese pie to balance out that sugar.
Keep venting together about that required ACS event, that senior project team member, that debonair iPrint employee. After college, this person may be across the country hating his or her job, traveling solo in Europe indefinitely or buried under law school textbooks, so appreciate this individual now, when he or she is present. Spoil that person. Share everything.
Next, go to the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. That invaluable Wildcard gets you in for cheap. It’s not as fresh and buttery as King of Prussia’s theater, but it’s got that “je ne sais quoi” and movie posters for sale; you’ll likely be the only ones there so laugh loud and keep talking during the previews.
The credits will roll, but keep this going: be lazy and hope the Septa conductor won’t charge you for a two-stop ride. Hike back by foot and pop into the Grog for the saltiest shepherd’s pie. See if the Kelly’s DJ is finally playing “Otis.” Or just go back to Moulden Hall and stay up until forever.
You don’t know or believe it now, but the University extends beyond Ithan Ave. and Spring Mill Rd. It goes with you. Appreciating that starts with these brief walks. So, one day, when you’re ready to leave for real, there’s no question of what you’re missing.