Last Monday when I arrived at work, I found the Emory Magazine editor’s office empty. Once home to a lively collection of knickknacks—a stuffed giraffe, a few toy cars, some Wedgewood china—it now brought to mind little Cindy Lou Who’s living room after the Grinch had absconded with all the Christmas decorations, leaving “nothing but hooks and some wire.” On each of the four chairs sat a large brown cardboard box, neatly taped shut and awaiting longtime editor Andrew Beierle’s move to Nashville later this summer.
It was just one month after Commencement, when some 3,489 graduates also marked an epoch in their lives. They, too, pulled the posters from the walls of their dorm rooms or apartments, taped up their cardboard boxes of dog-eared books and favorite CDs, and loaded their cars with four years’ worth of memories, all the while trying to wrap their Emory-educated minds around the formidable transition before them.
Some of us handle change better than others. I, for one, both crave it and resist it, much the way I anticipate a theme park roller-coaster ride: even though I love the rush, there’s always a point while I’m waiting nervously in line when I consider simply walking away and buying an overpriced Coke instead. Once you get strapped into your seat, the ride itself is so exciting there’s no time to worry; it’s the anticipation that’s hard.
Yet the process of preparing for change is critical to accepting it. We take down our pictures, wrap our quirky treasures in bubble wrap, have lunch with our friends to say our goodbyes. We tell ourselves, “This is the last time I’ll ever . . . ” about the most inane things, like “brush my teeth at this sink.”
There is ceremonial preparation, too. At Oxford College’s Commencement exercises this year, speaker Marshall Duke, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology at Emory, told graduates that he has always cherished this solemn rite of passage.
“Rituals may be thought of as gateways between one condition in life and another,” Duke said. “The ceremony is such that even as we are beginning to experience the new chapter in our lives, the placement of the ritual at the very point of transition maintains our sense of continuity and we can still feel a connectedness to the time that is coming to an end.”
We try to hold on to such moments, as if they are talismans that will help us walk through the gate into the future. Many Emory seniors symbolically “crossed over” from students to alumni at the Candlelight Crossover that begins Emory Weekend. As they filed past the line of alumni toward the Miller-Ward Alumni House, I could see on their faces that they were trying to commit the experience to memory, to grasp its elusive meaning.
Despite the profound celebration that accompanies such points of transition, I find them difficult to truly enjoy. They’re unsettling because they ask us to imagine ourselves in two places at once—the past and the future—without allowing us to fully belong to either. Even as we cast lingering glances over our shoulders, we are waiting to be strapped into our seats for the next ride.
During an interview this spring, Leah Sears, chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court and one of the wisest people I have ever met, told me something surprising. When she was first appointed to the Supreme Court, she found she didn’t want to move—literally to move, into her new office across from the capitol. Finally, her longtime secretary, Betty Daniels, took the matter in hand.
“I was almost immobilized, sitting there,” Sears recalled. “Betty came in one day with these boxes and she threw them on the floor, and she said, ‘We’re moving, Judge. We’re moving today. We’re moving up that hill.’ …And gosh, in two or three days I was pushing that cart up, and we were moving. I’ve had so many women say, look, you think you can’t, but just keep doing it and then in your mind, it will kick in that you can.”
As discomfiting as it may feel, the apprehension that grips us as we start a new chapter is also the kick we need to rise to the occasion. It’s that surge of adrenaline that enables us to challenge ourselves and push past the limits of what we’ve accomplished before.
What I remember most about my own graduation from the University of the South is not the formal Commencement ritual, although it was significant; nor the champagne and parties, although they were enjoyable. What is etched in my mind with particular poignancy is the drive, late that night, back to my hometown in Tennessee. My cassette player blared the Indigo Girls as I sped along under the moon and stars, my little car packed to the roof and the front windows wide open, over the twisting rural roads I had driven so many times.
Within weeks, I would move to Atlanta, get my first job at a newspaper, and then the following year, begin graduate school at Emory. But on that midnight drive, I was absolutely free, weightless, tethered to nothing.
Now that was quite a ride.
—Interim Editor Paige P. Parvin 96G