In summer we’re allowed to exist in limbo. At Penn we’re pushing, pressing, speed–walking from one place to another, always in the middle of something with three Google Calendar alerts vibrating our screens — but in the summer, the slow, achy days with sunscreen glopped on our cheeks and weekends that aren’t bookended by Van Pelt, we can admit we’re in transition. It’s momentary. There’s an end date. We have a whole life waiting for us in Philadelphia: class schedules, leases. And so summer, more so than any other time of the year, enables us to think about the stage of life that we’re in, to wax and to revel in our twenty–somethingness.
This summer was its own universe. It felt self–contained. I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina for an internship, five hundred miles from Philly and farther south than any place I’d ever lived. I listened to Kweder’s Spotify on the plane ride and crammed ten week’s worth of clothes into my carry on because I was irrationally stubborn about refusing to pay the checking baggage fee. I had gone through a break up and cut my hair and rewatched enough ABC Family teen shows to narrate the Uber ride from the airport in platitudes — the thought that the summer would be about Self Discovery and Finding Myself and other Lulu Lemon-worthy taglines. That didn’t happen. What did was that every one of my experiences that summer was defined by how temporary everything was, how short of an amount of time I had before I would hop on the return flight and move back onto Pine.
I lived in all–intern housing, in a dorm room we littered with popcorn crumbs and bottle caps, where I made most of my friends who all worked for the same company. I loved work—my cubicle specked with Post It notes and coffee stains, my to–do lists in marker on a whiteboard—but the corporate world was so foreign from the life I’ve built at Penn that I sometimes felt like I’d been Freaky Friday’d. The interns all knew that in a matter of weeks we’d be back to starting classes at noon and living in sweatshirts. And we were “So Excited To Go Back,” we asserted over happy hours, spilling discount beer on the corners of our work bags, exchanging Greek affiliations and college stories and orientation week plans. Work was fun, work was fine, but hey, college was waiting for us — one last year of “the best four years,” one final hurrah before “the real world” was just the world.
Ten weeks was short and every weekend was colored by urgency. I nestled into a cluster of friends and a mass of incessantly–buzzing group chats; we banded together quickly, over any trace of commonality. It felt like freshman fall in a hyperloop. I didn’t know if I’d ever be back in that city, or even back in that part of the country, and so we drove and explored and hiked and ate and danced and talked and hunted for a perfect view of the sun–speckled skyline, with a fervency I didn’t know I possessed. I was busy; I was happy. I was also constantly aware of the countdown to fall.
College is too long to feel temporary. We’re aware that the time goes by fast, but four years is too large a chunk of time to feel fleeting. And at Penn we’re so focused on being that we forget about becoming – about the process of twisting and changing that moulds us from the lanyard–looped freshmen binging Fruit Loops in Commons and deposits us at graduation.
But I’m a senior now. I have eight–ish months left on this campus, and the clock ticking down to May seems like it should be lit up on a scoreboard. For the first time, college feels more like a bridge to the next part of my life and less like the center of it — and for the first time, I don’t feel scared to leave. I love this place: Penn is beautiful and strange and hectic and, more often than not, the primary source of my happiness. But accepting that this time in my life has an expiration date enables me to live in it a little more, to view this year the way I viewed this summer.
The last weekend of my internship, I walked around the city, scripting eulogies in my head for the places I’d miss and the memories I’d replay later. I felt a dizzy rush of affection for a place I’d lived in for a season; I can’t imagine the force of what I’ll feel when I finally say goodbye to Penn. But when the moment comes, I know I’ll be ready. Until then, I’m living every day with the countdown to graduation on my mind.