Thoughts, Four Years Later

On Sunday, June 16th, I graduated from DePaul University, with bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and History of Art & Architecture.

It’s really, really intense to think about everything that’s happened in the past four years.

I spent my first year at the university not liking it very much. I was happy to finally be gone from Cincinnati, where I spent my middle and high school years, and finally getting the fresh start I had wanted for as long as I was there. That feeling wasn’t so much borne of animus against the people I knew in high school, though that was an aspect, but rather being able to escape the person I was then. I had not been well-liked, to say the least. I bet I’m still not held in high esteem by many of those folks, and I wouldn’t argue against them in terms of their assessments of my character. I was a pretty miserable person to be around, for a whole host of reasons, many of them stemming from my recovery from several rounds of intensive medical treatment regarding the brain tumor I had, but I don’t want that to be an excuse. I could and should have been a better friend, and a better student. Coming to Chicago meant that I could have that chance.

I like to think that I’ve taken that chance. Certainly, from my point of view, the past four years have been the absolute best years of my entire life. I have met the most amazing people, seen the most fabulous things, had experiences that are frankly so absurd that I never would have thought of them ever occurring beforehand, but now are time capsules to look back on and laugh at. I’ve had a few crushes, and now I can genuinely say that I am in love with a person whose wonderfulness I am staggered by each and every day.

I’ve learned. Shit, have I learned. I realize now that I came to Chicago as the very definition of someone who didn’t know a goddamn thing. But, through classes with utterly wonderful professors, and through the community of friends who welcomed me and shared with me their experiences and wisdom, I think I’m a far more compassionate, informed, active person.

However, much as I hope these things about myself are true, I don’t ultimately get to decide whether they are or not. I’m of the belief that whether or not I’ve grown as a person, whether I am worthy of the great friendship and care that I have been offered in this city and others, are to be judged by those that have made me who I am. To declare myself fleet and fancy-free, an activist, writer, friend, etc. worth listening would be the height of conceit.

This is a lesson I’ve learned through my friends, and in the pages of philosophical and historical texts, namely those of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Hannah Arendt, and Audre Lorde; we are constituted as people by our histories, by choices we have made or those that have been made for us, by those who we have interacted and chosen to learn from or otherwise. Had any small thing been changed in any part of our lives, we would be different. We are, in Merleau-Ponty’s words, condemned to sense; condemned, always, to exist as beings in the world.

This is, I think, the most important lesson I’ve learned so far in my life. We can’t escape our history, but we can work to be better people on account of it. We do that by being willing to listen, being willing to question not just ourselves, but the world itself, especially the information given to us from those who social norms would have us believe are our betters. This kind of engagement takes all kinds of forms, but it is essential to our very humanity.

I believe I have been made a better person by Kate, and by Danielle, and Miri, and Steve, and Tyler, and Amanda, and Simone, and Professor Chanter, and Lyz Liddell, and Debbie Goddard, and countless numbers of people who I simply cannot name here for lack of space. Being able to meet all of these people, and to be changed by them, is the great gift that DePaul University offered me, and so, despite what the administration might do with regard to basketball arenas and gentrification and generally disregarding every word that Vincent de Paul ever said or wrote, I will be forever grateful to the institution. Had I not gone to DePaul, everything would have been different, and I doubt I would have been as happy as I am in this moment.

In closing, thank you to everyone who’s been there. Thank you to everyone who reads this. I don’t know what I’m doing now, two degrees later, but I have no doubt it’ll be a fun ride.