May 21, 2014 by Jean
As I make final preparations for my move away from Gettysburg, this has been a week of “lasts.” On Sunday, I participated in my last official act as a member of the Gettysburg College faculty, donning my academic robes one last time and taking part in the Commencement ceremonies. This Commencement was different from all the others that I have participated in for the past 25 years, however; instead of processing with my faculty colleagues, I was part of the “platform party” – marching at the front of the academic procession with the honorary degree recipients, the officers of the college and the trustees and sitting with them up on the platform above the faculty, graduates, and families. The reason I was not with the rest of the faculty is that I was being honored with the college’s Award for Distinguished Teaching – something I have long dreamed of and a very gratifying way to mark the end of my teaching career.
It felt right that this last Commencement ceremony was markedly different from all the others. The day had a dream-like quality to it, from the breakfast with the President of the College and the honorary degree recipients, to the near-perfect weather, to the feeling of floating across campus after the ceremony and having congratulations called to me by people I had never met before. A particularly sweet moment came when I was receiving my award and, as I looked out at the graduates, happened to make eye contact with my honors student, Chad. He was just beaming, wearing a look that one most often sees on the faces of proud parents – a delightful role reversal.
After the high of Sunday, it’s not surprising that Monday was an emotional letdown, as I crashed into the reality of only four days to finish packing for my move. As I’ve slogged through this difficult week, I’ve been confronted by a series of goodbyes and “lasts.” Yesterday, I turned in my change of address to the Human Resources office and walked over to the College library to return my last library books. Today, I closed the door on my empty office for the last time and turned in both my keys and my parking permit, bringing home the point that I am now a visitor to campus. As I drove by the parking lot that I have walked through each morning on my way to work, I was struck by the realization that “I’ll never walk this way again.”
As I’ve worked on packing up all my belongings to move out of the townhouse that I have rented for the past thirteen years, I’ve become aware of just how happy I’ve been here, in a quiet neighborhood, within walking distance of work but outside the student noise zone, and with room for a garden. Although I have no doubts about my decision to retire and am very much looking forward to this new chapter in my life, this week of “lasts” has brought a hint of sadness and a sense of loss.