College at 30: O.L. ’04 + an All-Nighter

Half the ol’ OL team!

Yesterday I make the trek up to Athens. It’s not a long drive for me to my old college town, but it’s not one that I do often. It’s always a tough but rewarding trip; I love reliving my glory days and reveling in such sweet memories, but I’m always a little depressed as The Arches fade behind me. It’s a hard reminder that a wonderful and desirable phase of my life is gone forever. Don’t get me wrong, this phase is beautiful and full of life, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. However, my time at UGA still stands pristine upon a pedestal in my memories, making it hard not to wish I was reliving it.

The first time I stepped onto UGA’s campus as an official student was for The BIG Event (now renamed Dawg Camp). My decision to go to UGA had gone like this: I applied to a ton of schools, but Vanderbilt was my first choice, UGA my back-up. When I found out I had been accepted to both, my parents offered me a deal: Choose Vanderbilt, and they’d only pay for school. I’d have to cover housing, food, extra-curriculars and living expenses. Choose UGA, and they’d pay for everything (and they’d still come out getting a better deal because of the HOPE scholarship). I didn’t want to spend my free time and summers slaving away, nor did I want to leave school with a trail of loans following me. So naturally I chose UGA, and I was bound to make the most of my time there. It was a quick and almost thoughtless decision, but one that really set me on a path that (looking back 12 years after making it!) I’m thankful that I chose. It started with The BIG Event–and really didn’t stop until four years later, standing on the stage at graduation, ringing the bell in victory and stepping through The Arches and into adulthood.

During my time in Athens, I tried to take advantage of every opportunity, especially extra-curricular-wise, and found a lot of fulfillment. Perhaps the best choice I made was to interview for Orientation Leader; it was a summer that really impacted my life, and now NINE YEARS LATER, I went back to visit with my other OL ’04s to check out the new generation of OLs.

 Every time I step back into my old college town, I get a little weepy. So much has changed–on the campus and in the faces. It’s strange to walk around and to not know where you are, to be confused by what people call things these days, and to not recognize anyone. Orientation isn’t even held in the same place as it was back in ’04, so as I wandered around the new building looking for a dozen red polos and excited faces, I had to ask for directions. It was the weirdest feeling; it’s like looking at the back of your hand for the first time in a long time and realizing it’s gotten wrinkly and spotty and that you don’t recognize it anymore.

But then, a ray of light.

Although at 30 I was an awkward sight at Orientation–neither a parent’s age nor a new student’s age–there were my other OL ’04s! We hung around the unfamiliar building for a while, talking grown-up talk about kids, jobs and marriages, and then headed to Last Resort for dinner (Mallory bravely with her three kids in-tow). It was strange but comfortable to be back with people from my past, in a place from my past. We reminisced about good times, about ups and downs, where people were in life these days. We tried to remember tiny details that have long since faded from our memories, like our orientees’ names and our introduction songs. I’ve done this occasionally on my own before, but have always come up short and feeling a little old; so much has happened since then! But, in a collective group it’s like we’re parts of a larger whole–where my memories are faded, someone else’s are still vibrant, and where I can still envision certain moments, other have long forgotten them. There’s something about being part of a team that never leaves you, and last night I remembered that for the first time in a long time.

After dinner we ventured back to the unfamiliar hall where the familiar excitement of skits was about to happen. Skits is perhaps the most fun and exciting moment of every session, a time where everyone relaxes, laughs and enjoys good ol’ slapstick humor. As our OL ’04 team watched, we were reminiscent of our own times on stage. It seems that a few of our original skits may have stood the test of time, which was a delightful surprise. There were a few adjustments, but we found ourselves grinning and excitedly chattering as we recognized our ideas from almost a decade ago! Whether it was the test of time and knowledge passed down or simply inspiration from the common experience, the content was the same. It was comforting to feel like not so much time had passed and that not everything had changed…

And then there was the pride. I didn’t even know a single OL ’13 before last night, but (and I think I can speak for our entire team) there was a strange sense of pride. Like we had something to do with their success. Like they were us, just as if we had been born nine years late. Like they were our little brothers and sisters. I know it’s not a concept they’ll understand and the time, and certainly one that I didn’t when I was an Orientation Leader, but one day, when they’re 30 and hugging their long-lost team members, I hope they’ll look back at nights like yesterday and think, “Oh! So THIS is what they were talking about…”

After the proverbial curtains were closed and the students were well on their way back up the hill to Brumby, we did introductions. Our team couldn’t help but notice–are the OL numbers typecast?!? Whether there was a physical resemblance or not, there was a distinct essence common between the personalities of each number, even nine years later. We joked with the Orientation staff afterwards–Really, is there some magical formula passed down year to year, Director to Director? Some wonderful way of giving an order to a dozen seemingly random folks that brings out their distinct “number’s” characteristics? 

And then there was my little #7, Mariana. How cute and sweet and eager! How like me she seemed. And I liked that. It gave me a strange sense of being okay that so much time has passed, like even though I’m not there anymore, people like me still are. Like I could still fit in easily (if I was 20 again  :) ).

Last night I drove away from Athens in the midst of a storm, feeling very wistful and weepy. The constant thought that ran through my head was how different life post-college is, how unique and wonderful it is to be in your early 20s with so much left to figure out. I’m happy with every decision I’ve made in life, but there is a sense of sadness that comes with realizing that most of life’s decisions have already been determined: I know who my husband is, what my career is, where I live, who my first child will be…but the up side of knowing the answers to so many of life’s big questions is the excitement of knowing that there’s still more of life to be determined for me–most of all who I am, which is always constantly changing and evolving as life moves forward.

When I got home, emotionally and physically exhausted, my mind was reeling but I was ready for bed. A few minutes after settling down, Emma Vance began to cry. Back to reality. I went to comfort her, but she was sick–a runny nose, congested throat, warm forehead. She was unconsolable, and after being unable to settle her back into her crib, I trekked with her back to our master bedroom. She cuddled next to me all night, neither of us sleeping much at all as she cried mournfully off and on. Somewhere around 4 a.m., she peeked her sleepy little eyes up at me and then crawled onto my chest. She laid on me belly-to-belly, arms wrapped around me in a hug, head on my shoulder, legs falling lazily to the side. It was like when she was a newborn, and the sound of her heartbeat and the feeling of her breath made me grin in the dark like a fool. At 7 a.m. it was time to wake for the day, and I hadn’t slept at all. It was a grown-up’s all nighter, and after an evening reminiscing about being a college kid, I couldn’t help but think of my college all-nighters. How different their purpose! I could hardly remember what it feels like to stay up all night just because, just for fun or to study or because you forget about time. I forgot what it’s like to be able to stay up all night because your only responsibility the next day is a couple passive hours of class, and although spending the night tending to a sick child is not a desirable reason to pull an all-nighter, it’s nice to know that I still can if I want to. Or need to. :)

O-O-O-O-L  O-O-O-O-4!

There I am, somewhere in the middle. :)

Stormy weather in The Classic City…
Mallory’s little Sam at Last Resort :)

OL ’13–so proud!
My #7 counterpart! Heart her!

Who needs sleep? Not these girls!
All-nighters are allowed to make you a little loopy, right? :)

1 Comment

  1. July 18, 2013 / 6:43 pm

    loved this blog post.
    i so feel like this when ‘leaving’ or closing to the door to a memory once again. it’s the strange sadness that lasts only a little while….

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