Dear NW College

A friend of mine from college, Sara M., wrote this "letter." She graduated this past spring and is enduring the heartbreaking transition of leaving NW college. I only edited her letter in parts, removing the exact name of the college and town for obvious reasons. I post this here because, although it is not my writing, she wrote my thoughts exactly... and I believe these words sing too.

Dear NW College,

I am writing to you because I am angry with you.

You will take note that I graduated and moved away. Thus, the sentiments that I express this Sunday morning in September will likely be wholly unoriginal, as I imagine that a great deal of the letters you receive expressing one's anger are from those who have graduated and moved away. Either that or from sophomores in their fall semester who have not yet figured out how they will ever find a calling at a liberal arts school in O.C. Iowa.

The thing, NW, is that those of us who graduated and moved away thought that we did figure out our calling. We pushed past our sophomore anger, found a reason to not transfer, and we stayed. We stayed because we found reasons that no longer allowed us any room to doubt that NW was exactly the place we were supposed to be.

Perhaps, NW, you know where this is going. That place that was exactly where we were supposed to be? You prepared us to leave it. That whole education for our whole lives that you gave us made us pursue what we thought were our dreams--the kind of dreams that when we said them aloud made us sound driven and passionate. And so after saying these dreams out loud so many times, we got in our cars and we drove to seminary, to law school, to the Americorps program, to begin that job among the trees of California. Maybe some of us did that slow, creepy drive around campus five times before we could finally turn on to the road that would take us out of O.C. for good, but we left it nonetheless. We left the tulips, the loud Christian music on Sunday mornings in the caf, our usual pews in the chapel, and the Conoco sign advertising the "cheapest cigarettes in town." We left our churches where that kind man looked into our souls when he said "Peace." We left our department suites where everything in the world felt right when we were in them. We left the coffee shop after the last farewell coffee date. We said goodbye, and we drove away to our dreams.

Now, NWC, perhaps my tone seems careful and calculated right now. Perhaps nothing I've said so far seems a cause for anger, but I am. Angry, I mean.

Having arrived at our dreams, we unpacked and realized that no matter how tightly we grip our NWC travel mugs when we're around our new friends, they will never really know where OC is or why we always have to preface our college stories with: "My college town was a really small, crazy, conservative, Dutch town." Nor will they ever understand how or why, over the years, we fell in love with that small, crazy, conservative, Dutch town.

So we decided that it is not integral to our identities for our new friends to know our stories about walking down the middle of the road in inflatable sumo suits before we really had any homework freshmen year. It is not essential for them to know about the moment when we discovered our vocare. It is not even really that important for them to know how living within that community of people who were all trying to figure out how to live the Christ life changed us into who we are today.

We decided this in our heads, but then we pulled on our NW hoodies to help us remember who we are, and we remembered--"Wait, there are people who know all of those stories and understand who we are because of those very moments and years we spent together."

And there we sit, on some hard floor, in some new town with bugs and flavors of soda we've never heard of before, wearing our NWC hoodies and remembering those who knew us and those who understood our dreams.

NWC, what if we only had those dreams in the context of those professors and friends and bosses who cultivated them? I'm not sure you ever told us that they would have to be our own dreams. As we strolled outside on Friday afternoons to the sound of Heemstra's music, amidst the comfortable sights and sounds and smells, our dreams made sense to us. They made so much sense to us that we filled out those applications to our new programs, and we drove away.

Yet now, NWC, we're not really sure what we're doing. We're trying to make new friends, we're buying travel mugs with the name of our new institutions, and we're trying to make a home here. If we did it at NWC, we can do it again.

And yet it has been 4 months since graduation, and none of the things we have tried thus far have done anything to fill the void. The forced interactions with our new companions do not fill the void. Getting our first compliment on our work does not fill the void. The chocolate brownies do nothing to fill the OC shaped void. And so we look at any of the bits of NWC memorabilia we brought to our new lives, and our hearts ache.

NWC, I carry around my new syllabi in a red and white NWC folder, hoping that my intentional syncretism will turn what I have now into that which I came from. The thing is, we haven't figured out how to move on when what we came from was exactly what we always needed. We go to our new classes, and all we think about are our old professors. We go to our new churches, and all we can think about is how much we miss our old churches. We hang out with new friends, and all we can do is miss our old friends.

Do you understand why I'm angry, NWC? I am angry because you prepared me for the future, and then the future came. It is true that this anger is not really anger at all. This anger manifests itself in teary eyes and an aching heart. But it is easier to call it anger than it is to name it for what it is--sadness, grief, despondency. This is not the kind of anger that will keep me from being a good donor, NW. Rather, it is the kind of anger that makes me hope every day of my new life for the phonathon kid to call today so that I can talk to you. I don't want to write a note to the Classic expressing my anger; I just want to sit on my hard floor, in the new town with the weird bugs and sodas, and talk to you so that I can remember my dreams.

NWC, we want you to tell us that our dreams are still relevant even though we drove away.

NWC, we want you to tell us that our dreams didn't only make sense in the world of poffertjes and too many churches.

NWC, we need you to tell us that our dreams, and us, can remain in our OC stories, but can also extend into new stories.

NWC, we are really not angry with you at all. We are simply trying to figure out how to live in a world where our dreams are really our own. We are trying to figure out how to apply our whole education to our whole lives. You will please forgive us if we feign anger to control our sadness. You will please be patient with us as we figure out how to keep you with us even though we have moved on. You will please know from our anger how grateful we are to have known you.

But for now, NWC, as we still transition into our new lives, we will wear our hoodies, clutch our travel mugs, pin up our tulip pictures on our walls, and we will miss you.

I think, NWC, it'd be best for you to just give us more time. But please, NNWC, have that phonathon kid call soon.

A NWC Graduate


Anonymous said...

I slept less than 4 hours last night so I'm exhausted. I get emotional when I'm exhausted. So mybe that's why this piece made MY allergies "act up." I love knowing that NWC and OC meant that much to someone else. I hope she does actually send this to someone in the alumni office. It's good - it should be published somewhere.
Love, A.L.

Elizabeth said...

may i ask why you edited it?

i am just confused and would like to know what other colleges in O.C. Iowa are called NWC...?

made love

Tessa said...

Wow, something deeply resounding in my heart. That is really, really weird. I didn't know other people felt likewise... Thanks for sharing!

Carrie Mathison said...

Thank you so much for sharing! I feel that same heart ache especially when trying to figure our where my life is going! It's so nice to know we aren't alone.

Kali said...

Might I recommend looking at your student loans when you feel this sting? No? Okay fine - it doesn't really work for me either. There aren't many days (if any) that pass that Dan & I don't make some reference to our dear alma mater and how very very grateful we are for the ways it shapes our lives. Then we talk about moving back into the dorms. Do you think they take babies?

We might just go ahead and enroll Caroline now. I'm shooting for the Peale.

Anonymous said...

That was great. I can hear it coming out of her mouth as if if she were reading it to me personally. Though I wasn't a student, I still miss NWC deeply as well. It's been difficult trying to describe OC here, even at a school that looks the same on paper!

To our Steggy travel mugs,