Michael Sugerman: My yearbook note to Michigan

Monday, April 17, 2017 - 7:22pm

Dear Michigan:

During the final song circle at Jewish sleepaway camp, I used to think it was funny when some of the less emotional kids launched into a “You’ll never see your friends again” chant. I may have even joined in. Sometimes, the easiest way to say goodbye is to trivialize the interaction; it can be less emotionally stressful that way.

I’m a “see you later” kind of guy, anyway. But this is different. Graduating from the University of Michigan is neither a goodbye nor a see you later. Instead, it is both those things and so much more. Completing my undergraduate education is the culmination of 17 years in school. My struggle in writing this column is coming to terms with the fact that this 17-year chapter — the majority of my short existence on this Earth — is coming to a close. I’m really not sure how to do it justice in this context. How can I possibly enumerate or outline all that I’ve learned, the relationships I’ve formed and why this time has been so meaningful to me? Just thinking about such a task gives me a raging headache.

So I’ll start from the beginning. When I first came to the University, I was in awe of the perceived party culture. In 2012, the infamous “I’m Shmacked” video came out, chronicling a fall game day (and the subsequent night’s celebration) in all its drenched-with-cheap-alcohol glory. 

That video made me question whether or not I wanted to come to here at all. I didn’t drink in high school, and I thought I’d be lost or even judged if I didn’t partake. The thing is, the University has been way more significant to me than the “work hard, play hard” party culture some tout in addressing its allure. Subsequently, my meaningful experiences are what I want to focus on and reflect on in my final weeks here.

The University is its multiplicity of living-learning communities, like the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program. Inhabiting a dorm with students who shared my passions for writing, art and music — not to mention small class sizes and encouraging faculty — eased my transition at a time when I was scared that big lectures would diminish my drive as a student.

The University is the feeling of affirmation I had after meeting with my Psych 111 professor, Dr. Shelly Schreier, multiple times my sophomore year. Our relationship made me realize that I had someone who cared about my success and getting to know me, and it was one of the first times I didn’t feel anonymous in a big lecture.

The University is my time at The Michigan Daily. It’s people like Rachel Premack and Will Greenberg, who were two of my best writing teachers, despite only being a year older than me; or Jen Calfas, a now-lifelong friend who, among other things, helped me get my first internship; or my cohort of senior news editors, who are just as happy bouncing around at SkyZone as we are grabbing drinks at Dominick’s.

The University, to my surprise, is my fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi, which I helped re-charter during my sophomore year. Many of its members really have become my brothers. Delta Sig gave me the opportunity to do something that was explicitly for the purpose of forging new friendships and fostering old ones. Chapter (when I went) was always just an excuse to hang with guys like Adam Kozek and Kevin Wallace anyway.

The University is meeting Matt White during freshman orientation, meeting Casey Aman and Joe Shea during Welcome Week, and having them become some of my closest friends. It’s eating breakfast at Frank’s with Joe, talking about the Central Student Government’s relationship with the Daily and brainstorming ideas for joint business ventures. Joe’s best idea is easily “The Pig House,” a restaurant to be close to Michigan Stadium that would specialize in barbecue pork.

It’s hanging around with Matt and Casey (now my roommates) — whether that means taking a long walk around the neighborhood, sitting around in our underwear and watching stand-up comedy specials or sitting on the floor and talking politics. It’s all the grocery store runs and visits to the laundromat and shared, home-cooked meals. It’s the Thanksgiving we spent with Casey’s family in Rockford, Michigan, drinking cherry cordial, scarfing turkey and falling asleep to “Ant Man” on the floor.

The University is the Ford School of Public Policy. It’s the life-changing classes with Yazier Henry about social justice and political structure, where I was forced to think critically about diction, the disparities between intention and consequence and how the processes through which systems of governance are created frame power dynamics and historical oppression. Perhaps less profoundly, it’s the late nights with Heidi Payter in the Betty Ford classroom, finishing papers we should’ve started weeks before. It’s sitting in a conference room with Sami Wintner, pretending to do work before leaving to grab food. It’s policy conversations with Roland Davidson and Jake Haber during Shabbat dinner at my house (if you know Jake, force him to cook you Brussels sprouts sometime).

The University is my freshman year roommate, Leo Barse, who I don’t see often but who I count as a close friend — because who could know me better than someone who slept five feet away from my bed? It’s the songs we recommended to each other, the Pizza House we shared at 2 a.m., the bonding experience of acclimating to a new school and living situation and time of life. It’s my Michigan in Washington roommates, Matt Fidel, Joe Ambrose and Mark Haidar; guys who kicked my ass in NBA 2K, stayed up late discussing existential crises and bonded (both for good and for bad) over a disdain for washing dishes (sorry, Mark).

The University is my FaceTime calls. It’s seeing high school friends like Rebecca Aaron and Ben Gaylord even though they’re thousands of miles away, sharing our lives together and marveling at what it means to have known each other since we were 14. It’s talking to my dog, Penny, despite her lack of understanding that I am doing so; vicariously reliving high school through my sister’s stories; asking my parents for life advice, direction and column ideas.

Now, the University is the dissonance of feeling like I could both stay here forever and leave immediately. I’ve written about my Ann Arbor routine(s) that make this place feel like home, but I’m increasingly aware that I’m ready for a new routine. I’m forever indebted to the people who made it all possible.

My grandparents worked harder than I could ever imagine to make a life for my parents (and subsequently, for me) in which the pursuit of a college education was never a question. I know that this is an incredible privilege, and I don’t take it for granted.

My parents supported me at every step of the way. When I couldn’t motivate myself, they were the external force that kept me going. They encouraged me to follow my passion for journalism, even when it meant (as it now does) that I wouldn’t come home after graduation. Thanks for telling me to dream big, and for helping me make those big dreams a reality.

My sister has always been and will always be my best friend. Rebecca, I’ve so appreciated you for always telling it like it is, making me laugh, sharing BuzzFeed quizzes, elevating my Instagram abilities and texting me when Mom and Dad are acting strangely.

I’m wary of a recent comment my dad, a University alum, made wistfully over the phone: “You begin to miss college more the longer you’re away from it.” So, Michigan, though I’m still here, I miss you already. I know our relationship, even with its blemishes, won’t end now; you’ll be a part of me forever.

H.A.G.S.,

Michael Sugerman

Michael Sugerman can be reached at mrsugs@umich.edu.