As contemplative and reflective as graduating seniors can sometimes be – especially those planning on penning some sort of bittersweet ode in the campus newspaper – my closing weeks here have been surprisingly free of philosophical musings.

Paul Wong
Geoffrey Gagnon

In some ways I’ve been kind of disappointed in my lack of sentimentality and this disappointment had me worried yesterday. I’ve been a fan of the Daily’s goodbye column tradition for years and confident that if my time ever came I’d be ready to deliver an appropriate dose of poetic whimsy and sage wisdom to leave this University with my head held high, confident that I had made my peace with it.

This, after all, is a time I had planned to reserve for pensive reflection and sad stories of the days I’d soon leave behind. It’s a time in which I planned to be scribbling farewell poems on doors in the Grad Library and breaking in running shoes for the Naked Mile.

Instead of the historically appropriate feelings of melancholy reflection from which the more stirring farewell columns flow, I’ve been feeling thankful – and its that sick feeling that’s threatened to ruin my shot at a proper goodbye.

In bad need of a sentimental jumpstart, I wandered upon my muse yesterday as I was feeling sorry for not feeling sorry about saying goodbye. Clutching their obvious yellow folders and brandishing their nametags, I saw my salvation in the form of a gangly throng of high schoolers taking part in their first campus visit.

The guided tour of campus – full of handy trivia – was a rite of passage I had regretfully avoided before enrolling and again at orientation. Quite frankly it’s a probably a shock for the folks at the admissions office to think that I managed here for four years without the knowledge that the world’s largest fish tank sits adjacent to the Law Quad (it’s currently drained for cleaning though).

So, envying those who the University was grooming to take my place, I hung out with the tour group for a while and blended in to the back of the group. Before long I was a wealth of knowledge – able to describe the scene as John Kennedy proposed the Peace Corps at the Union and able to picture the students who are said to play Frisbee in the Law Quad “all the time.”

But as the tour went on a little while longer I wondered when we were going to see my version of the University. Sure, we saw the president’s house, where manicured bushes guarded the lawn. But we never saw my first house where a thick green vine still grows from the decomposed remains of blue ribbon pumpkins that were “borrowed” to grace our porch in October of 1999 before rotting there sometime the next summer.

We talked about the dorms and their special appeal. But the kids in the group didn’t get to see the pair of underwear that hung from the window outside my room for a full year in miraculous defiance of wind and winter, nor did they sense the intensity of the all-night James Bond games we had dubiously referred to as “hot action.”

The tour guide never pointed to the second floor of the Daily where a collection of Guns N’ Roses CDs and a 45-cent Coke machine helped ensure that some of the finest term papers written between the hours of 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. were penned not without a lot of fun. (At this point I’m neither condoning nor accepting responsibility for the broken windows, the chairs hurled from the building, or the 24 Snapple bottles that science has proven cannot fly safely from the Arts room to Helen Newberry Residence Hall, no matter how close the buildings appear to be).

You know, the more I listened to the tour guide describe what Michigan appeared to be, the more thankful I was for taking four years to find out what it meant to me. And the easier it became to sum up what I’ll take away and what I’ll miss most.

Maybe it was the school, or the Daily or my friends or professors – or maybe it was everything combined – but for me, Michigan has been more than a collection of buildings and a block ‘M’ on the Diag. It’s been a place where life breathes seamlessly with learning and where the pride and the passion that come from being a part of a community is far too rich to feel on a campus tour and far too real to forget when they hand you a diploma.

To the friends I’ve made along the way, to the friends I’ve managed to keep despite the Daily (The boys of TC), KMD and my family, thank you.

This is Geoffrey Gagnon’s last column for the Daily. He can be reached at ggagnon@umich.edu.

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