Ann Arbor has managed to master the impossible illusion of permanence. It is unwavering in its familiarity, remaining seemingly unchanging year after year. And yet, it grows just when you, and the people around you, need room to go forward.
I imagine sitting in the Big House, and I know the faces around me have masked the impossible as possible. We’ve studied our hearts and minds out, fell in love with more than one class, taken 17 credits, attended back-to-back meetings, and we still made it to Rick’s before “Sweet Caroline” came on. The University of Michigan is a land of extremes where you can pull an all-nighter for a variety of reasons — none of which are a lack of determination. The University trains and challenges each Wolverine as an individual and as an indivisible team.
I know this because I’ve watched this determination every day in the people around me — the ones I’ve encountered briefly, the ones I’ve admired, the ones I’ve envied and, most of all, the ones I’ve come to regard as family.
I watched Di learn every bodily system in the pre-med world with an infallible smile on her face and the Sunday Times sprawled across her floor, simultaneously absorbing all the weight of the world and validating my career in news. I’ve gotten lost with Jaime every time we go anywhere without Google Maps, and yet she’s securing aerospace engineering internships. I’ve capped midterm seasons by driving around Ann Arbor, judging Christmas lights with Mads, Jayne and Lains, Mcflurries in hand, a treat after a rigorous IM soccer season.
That is the University of Michigan — a land of our own carefully engineered extremes all featuring our own versions of family that we’ve pulled together from different corners of the world. The moments we mold here with our Michigan family have a special kind of nostalgic sting that pulls at your memory all at once. Not in pieces, as we so often recall the past, but in one sweeping motion that never leaves you: the long nights in the UGLi, the bitter bite of that loss to Louisville, the triumphant return of Harbaugh. All we had to hold onto in those highs and lows were the people who give shape to the place that we all entered as wide-eyed freshmen and leave as (slightly) wiser seniors.
This past summer, I landed the internship I’d worked toward for years — a foot in the door that kept shutting. Like any Wolverine, once I got it, I didn’t let it go. I woke up every day at 3:45 a.m. to work two shifts around high-powered, larger-than-life CBS News personalities. After enough 3 a.m. wake-up calls, I wasn’t sure if I was nocturnal or not. My apartment felt empty and the city that never slept was undeniably burning me out. That’s when Michigan came to me. I found myself a couple beds short and a heart full. Kelly was making stupid jokes; Nic was cracking open wine; Cat was giving brutally honest fashion advice while trying to FaceTime Mags, Em and J; and Katherine was trying to locate Tommy, who was somehow in the East Village. And it was bursting again; the city lit up, and suddenly everything felt maize and blue.
That is Michigan. It never leaves you. You can always return to the feeling of the Big House in the fall, the Law Library in the winter, the Arb in the spring. You can tap into the fire that lights this campus and find something to propel you forward.
My hard work last summer led to my dream job, but it wasn’t dream timing. To take it, I had to miss my last semester here. I resolved myself to four months of missing out
and graduated in quiet denial that it was the end. I felt heavy — heavy to leave this place not knowing if it would ever truly be the same. Amid the excitement of spring graduation in the air, I know many seniors felt that sense of fear.
Well, I’ve worked almost half a year now, but being back in Ann Arbor brings a sort of magic only those who bleed maize and blue will know. The only people who truly understand how it feels to have our first snow day in over 30 years or camp out by the Michigan Union all night to hear the President of the United States speak stepped foot in the Big House for one last time all together on April 30.
I’m writing to tell you those feelings don’t go away.
When everything starts to move too quickly and the ground becomes molten under your very feet, that’s when you’ll start to appreciate the people who remain. Those who, after not seeing them for weeks or months, take off right where you left off. As if your whole world hadn’t shifted and shaped itself into a new creation during that lapsed time. As if you hadn’t lost and found yourself a thousand times over. All that time will shrink and fade to a single point when you see them. And in that singularity, the ground is solid beneath your feet again.
The family we make here, those constant faces in a sea of change will keep you afloat and treading even the most tumultuous waters. As you immerse yourself in challenges beyond your imagination, limited by what you believe is possible, the world starts to reveal opportunities beyond those limits. Time simply won’t allow that future to unfold while clinging to those in your past. That’s when the people who can permeate past rigid pretenses of present and past emerge. In their ability to make time irrelevant, they embed themselves into your future. They allow for you to grow and grow with the security of knowing you will always have an ever-present part of your past in your unforeseeable future.