My problem is certainly not lack of experience, but rather a lack of motivation; I have never had the desire to deliver an impressive, Oscar-worthy farewell. At the end of my first year of summer camp, for example, I was the only dry-eyed third grader among throngs of bleary-eyed Jewesses. While everyone else wept through the choir’s rendition of “End of the Road,” I sat through my middle school graduation wondering why everyone was so upset about moving across the street from the public middle school to the public high school. I have been too proud to cry when boyfriends have broken up with me. I knew I would see my high school friends each time I made the trek back to California. Every time I say goodbye to my parents at the airport, I just repeat that I will call as soon as I get in.
Others can do it, and they can do it quite well. Some have mastered the cry so intense that it produces uncontrollable violent hiccups. Or they have perfected the subtle silent cry, complete with an open mouth, a beet-red face, and a bobbing of the head that makes one’s sobs vibrate in pitch. Others just slump their shoulders and assume an air of gloom—I can’t go on without you, you don’t know how much you meant to me, the end is near, I’ll never be the same ever again, etc. etc.
Even if you do hold yourself together, goodbyes are never easy to execute. They can’t be too long and painfully drawn-out, or too short and callously impersonal. But do you just engage in normal conversation? Or do you broach new topics? Or spend the entire time reminiscing? Time becomes more precious than ever in the final hours, and it’s nearly impossible to say farewell to everyone near and dear. So is there blame to assign? Guilt to suffer? And even if you plan for a final goodbye, it’s inevitable that you will run into the other person again before you actually take off. So do you hug once more? Repeat the same sweet nothings? Confirm that the contact information you gave the first time is, in fact, correct?
The problem is, although we attach a lot of brouhaha to goodbyes, the ritual is not terribly logical—or terribly meaningful. According to convention, we should use goodbyes to relay exactly how much the other person means to us, how they have changed us, and how they will be remembered. It may be a harmless custom, but it is certainly not a meaningful one. For whatever affection or flattery is uttered in those final moments should pale in comparison to the expressions of appreciation that have built up and sustained a friendship or relationship. Those close to me know how much I care about them already, and I don’t need a final elaborate goodbye to get my point across.
And yet we go to a school where friendship often intersects with politics, money, status and power. As such, it’s not always so clear how much—or how little—we think of our fellow classmates. And so we amass acquaintances at Harvard, thanks to a combination of tolerance, ambition and Cambridge-specific social demands. In an effort to survive in this cutthroat atmosphere, we keep our friends close but our enemies closer. Rumor has it that Harvard students get a lot nicer and a lot more tolerable once they graduate. Go figure—removed from this academically and socially competitive environment, we discover how lonely and miserable it is when you think you’re better than everyone else.
But that’s for then, and this is for now: when we have to say goodbye to one another. The lucky ones among us know who helped shape them into the people that they are today. They know who made these four years worth remembering, and who will continue to be a part of their lives even after graduation. There need not be any fanfare to proclaim it or any tears to officiate it.
Those are the lucky ones, though. Everyone else has the same significant people and the same valuable memories, but they somehow weren’t able to express or share that with those they cared about. And, contrary to popular myth, goodbyes at graduation are not exactly the most meaningful time to finally come clean. We each chose a life for ourselves here at school, for better or for worse, and it’s from that experience that we will navigate life after college. And so it’s during life after college, and on our own, that we should remind our friends how special they really are to us—not prompted by some elaborate occasion, but rather by the urge to connect with those close to us at the most random and unexpected moments.
Jordana R. Lewis ’02, a history and literature concentrator in Eliot House, was an editorial chair of The Crimson in 2001.