We walked on the long driveway to St. Norbert Abbey, wondering out loud whether it was legal for us to walk the labyrinth so late at night and laughing about the absurdity of getting arrested for doing so, the zany humor of Spongebob Squarepants and myriad other things.
When we reached the labyrinth and began to walk the path depressed into the lush, cool grass, we gradually became hushed and, soon after, silent. We each made our way into the center of the labyrinth, lifting our eyes at the star-studded sky above or glancing at the black forms of the trees and abbey. Once there, we celebrated, tried and failed to take a decent picture, and quietly walked back through the twisting path. Back to the college we went, passing by Zesty’s - where we had indulged in custard earlier that evening - and enjoying the refreshing air of a late summer night.
Since that first journey to Zesty’s and the labyrinth in our first semester at St. Norbert College, my friends and I have tried to recreate that evening once a year. We haven’t always succeeded, but the memory has remained as one of my best and most treasured experiences while here. Maybe we’ll enjoy one last excursion to the abbey before we graduate; at the very least, we’ll enjoy each other’s company throughout this semester.
Endings tend toward bittersweetness. This one is no different for me, as I look forward with excitement (and, to be sure, a fair amount of nervous sweat) to new opportunities in graduate school and back with satisfaction at my time living and learning at SNC and, perhaps most importantly, learning to live well beyond it.
Important in that learning process was the honors program, especially in my first two years as a resident and then an RA in Bergstrom Hall. Living in Nerdstrom gifted me with remarkable, kind, and - yes - weird friends who have walked with me through not only labyrinths but also the peaks and valleys of life and who, I hope, will continue to do so after graduation. Even as I’ve gained new friendships, they have remained a core network of support and guidance, and I hope I have been as good to them as they have been to me.
The honors program has expanded my horizons both figuratively and physically. My discussions with professors and other honors students in and out of the classroom have challenged me and helped me become more cognizant of my beliefs and why I hold them and more open to the knowledge and perspectives of others, especially those very different from me. Of course, I’d be remiss if I missed mentioning the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference in Seattle in 2016, where I had the opportunity to present on Norbertine women, tour the Emerald City, try salmon and clam chowder for the first time, and celebrate my twenty-first birthday with a dessert tray instead of a beer (yes, I am a Goofy Goober) and do all this in good company.
Most importantly, however, the honors program and my entire experience at St. Norbert College has imparted to me the need to see and move beyond barriers, distinctions, and labels. Our identities and stories matter and we must recognize and honor them when encountering each other, but we must also look beyond them to our core identity as human beings in need of and worthy of respect and love. We must understand the universal as we treasure it in the particular, holding both in creative tension. We must, in a sense, be pastoral. (My apologies: the theologian in me decided to start writing.)
Through the whirl of falling leaves, tumbling snowflakes, budding flowers, and scampering squirrels at SNC, I’ve met people. Faculty, staff, students, coworkers, mentors, friends, yes - but, first and foremost, people. And these people have taught me to see them as that, to meet them where they are as people and to give them the space, support, and challenge to be themselves, the best version of themselves they can be. They in turn have given me that same space, support, and challenge, and, though I’ll always have room to grow, I think I’m a better me than when I came here in the fall of 2014. I have been honored by this place and by these people.
Soon I will part from this place and the people I have met here. I don’t know when we’ll meet face-to-face again: months, years, the rest of our lives. That’s not to be maudlin, but to state a fact. Life will move on and change as life does, but I will carry the memories, lessons, and gifts St. Norbert College and the people at it have given me in my heart, giving thanks for and reflecting on them for the rest of my life. And I will trust, hope, and pray, as I do now, that our winding paths through this world will one day meet again at the center of it all, where we can rejoice and laugh, gaze in wonder around us, and partake in a delicious frozen dairy treat - or perhaps an even better feast - as friends, as people.