It was toward the beginning of my senior year, wedged in between a pair of football losses. After coming back from a semester abroad in Warsaw, Poland, I had been feeling just a bit more lost than usual, and it sort of culminated on that day.
Not that I could remember ever really knowing where I was going. In fact, ever since Professor H.D. Cameron began spouting quotes of Homeric proportions in my very first college lecture, I realized that I had very little endgame in mind. But there I was, just months removed from this transformative, worldly experience and, suddenly, 6 a.m. pre-games and Thursday nights at Skeeps no longer seemed sufficient distractions.
I was wandering the streets of campus that Sunday, crossing under the Engineering arch, giving some spare change to one of our more jovial, friendly bums. I hummed along to the harmonica that ushered my entrance to the diag and I exchanged pleasantries with friends fighting hangovers on their way to the UGLi.
I approached that Gold ‘M’ in the center, that grand piece of maize metal on the ground that I refused to step on — a stance that I would hold fast until graduation. I suddenly recalled the chubby 16-year-old who first visited this campus, who first trembled at its buildings, who first whiffed the aroma of tradition in the air. I remembered this boy, and I had to wonder: Has anything changed?
I had made great friends in college, sure. I had met some girls and I had hurt some girls. I had gotten hurt myself. I took some interesting classes. I took some hard classes. I took Coral Reefs to fulfill my Natural Science requirement. I read amazing books and had enlightening conversations. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I hadn’t really done anything.
I didn’t even realize I was still wandering on that brisk Sunday, my neck slightly bent, the hood of my sweatshirt covering the tops of my eyes just enough that I saw the ground before me but not the sky or the buildings or the future straight ahead. My legs were taking me somewhere, and my choices were taking me somewhere — somewhere my head and heart would soon follow.
I found myself on the steps of the Union, the University’s flag flying high from its tower. I stared again at the plaque I had seen a million times: John F. Kennedy’s face emblazed in bronze. Suddenly my head caught on to where my legs were taking me. Suddenly my heart had a direction in which to yearn. So I thought, “Why not me?” and I headed to the Tap Room, logged onto PeaceCorps.gov and started an application.
I am now just over six months into my service as a Youth Development Volunteer in Ukraine. It’s a long way from the march down Hoover Street and the line on the north end of Thompson. My new house has no running water, no sink, no bathtub, an outdoor “toilet” (read: hole in the ground) and a door that won’t quite shut — which should be a real charmer come the Ukrainian winter that is alleged to put that of Ann Arbor to shame. Until now, I never thought I would find myself yearning for my former dilapidated residence on Vaughn Street.
I still do a lot of wandering here — wading through fields of sunflowers or rows of potatoes or forests of wheat. But now I wander with purpose, trying to figure out a theme for my next English lesson or how to better implement our village-wide anti-litter campaign. I strategize with local leaders about how to build a better future for the children, and I brainstorm about financing for my pipe dream of a recycling plant in the abandoned factory just outside of town.
Every day kids walk into my office at school and ask me about the flag with the giant ‘M’ draped on my wall. I tell them it’s from the greatest University in the world, the entire reason why I’m here.
Mee-Shee-Gan, they say. Michigan, I cry. And I feel for the first time in my life like a real leader. I feel like, finally, I am doing my best.