One night, while walking back to my dorm after studying in the library for some time, my friend, who was accompanying me in my journey back, said this to me. “We’re dissatisfied with how our time at Amherst is coming to an end because we are desperately seeking for some sort of meaning to the imminent end. But there is no meaning to our time here – and that’s why it’s so sad.”
We were already conversing about how we feel about graduating. A curious mixture of confusion, relief, anxiety, excitement, and nostalgia engulfed us as our feelings became real through our words. Such conversation, it seemed like, were had not only by us but by everybody whose time at Amherst were quickly approaching its expiration date. And perhaps, because of the ticking time bomb we were all cast under, many of my friends seemed to have been interlocked in a frantic race to grasp at this ever-elusive “meaning” behind our four years at college.
I did not exempt myself from this race. In fact, I plunged head first into the race, fully equipped with running shoes and compression shorts. I made plans to catch up with all my friends I lost touch with, aggressively visited my professors at their office hours, took long walks through the freshmen quad to relive my bygone days spent there, and hosted late night talks in my room to rekindle some kind of conviviality that we all once had but seemed to have dissipated down the road.
The race, I thought, was exhausting. I told myself, however, that this was the right thing to do to leave Amherst, the place I spent the four most formative years of my life, with no regrets. But the race tired me, wore me down, and ironically, made me grow even more distant from some of my closest friends. And around this time, I started wondering what the purpose of it all was. Why did I feel the need to engage myself in this competition?
The answer, I suppose, lied in the insecurity I felt of many different forms. Perhaps insecurity of being forgotten after I graduate. Insecurity of not having answered the many what-ifs I have asked myself time and time again. Insecurity of not having made the most out of my time at Amherst. Insecurity of leaving behind so many friendships I forged during my time here.
It was around this time of existential inquiry that I had the aforementioned conversation with my friend. Initially, I did not want to believe that there was no meaning behind the four years I spent in Western Massachusetts. To write off my experience here as being meaningless seemed concerning – distasteful, even.
But as I mulled over this question for some time, I realized meaninglessness does not necessarily have to be perceived as being negative. Why do we seek meaning in things, anyway? The answer, in the end, seemed so simple: we don’t want our time here to go to waste, and henceforth, we search for meaning to legitimize the time spent here as one that is of substance.
I now think differently. Imbuing meaning into something, whether that’s an experience, an event, a friendship, or even a failure, does not make that something more “valid” or more “influential.” What matters, in the end, is what one has learned from one’s lived experience and how that alters the course of life one chooses – or does not choose – to take. Insofar as my time at Amherst goes, I have seen myself grow, and with such growth came moments where I questioned things that were once so obvious to me. To move the immovable, to think the unthinkable – these were the markers that guided me through my time here, and for these markers I am grateful.
So, in the end, I don’t really think I found meaning in my undergraduate career. But I now am not burdened by that fact. Another friend (different from earlier) said to me this: “life is fundamentally meaningless, but that’s why it’s so great – because we can choose to fill it with whatever we wish to. That’s how we become we.”
And perhaps, this act of filling is what makes our lives meaningful.