I’m writing this poem or letter or essay or whatever this ends up being because you mean a lot to me and I don’t know how else to express this without wasting your class time and/or money. So, if you end up reading this, it’s plainly your fault. I worked to become a professor all of my adult life and now that I’ve somewhat settled into the routine, I’ve found that teaching is fulfilling in every way that love can be fulfilling. You are the major component of this, and I cannot thank you enough.
I recently had a poem published by NYU and I took the opportunity to crack a Felicity reference. I used to watch the show with my sister but realized that I remembered little, aside from Keri Russell’s voluminous hair, of which I am still smitten. I searched for the opening to the show on Hulu and recall 1998, thinking it was overly artsy and pretentious. All those pretty faces staring solemnly in the black and white stills of lower Manhattan. The wordless theme song. Everything in lowercase for some fucking reason. But now that I’m more than a decade removed from my undergrad days, that stupid opening makes me tear up and I dislike this immensely because I’m only comfortable expressing anger. (I blame New York.) What makes me sniffle is how the still photographs capture the fleeting moments of the college experience that seem slow but will probably be forgotten once you hit thirty. And those moments meant so much at the time! It’s your rough draft of adulthood. Because let’s be honest, a high school degree is a glorified participation trophy.
But in college, you discover your true core. Not who your parents think you are, or your old friends, or even your teachers. You are pushed to look past the nonsense that pop culture injects into your eyeballs to become pleasant little consumers. Maybe you are following your lifelong dream, or maybe cultivating something new. I was originally a computer science major and now I teach literature for a living.
So now, I rewatch this video clip and pray these characters found something that makes them happy. Because discovering an authentic self usually involves a healthy portion of misery. And so I wish you just enough misery to help point you toward lasting happiness. No one will admit that only after your spirit’s been tested do you fully comprehend the resilience resting dormant within your heart.
There are a lot of people who will tell you that you aren’t good enough for them. Just remember that your main objective is to be good enough for you. It sounds simple but it really isn’t.
I haven’t always been the best person to be around. During grad school, I was on the warpath to outwork everyone else on the planet. There were many nights I could not sleep because I had too much ambition and would work straight through dawn. I was not going to be a failure. I refused. All my life people would say, “Wow, I can say that I knew you when!” I know they were trying to be nice, but it just put this extra pressure to succeed, succeed, succeed. I think maybe in retrospect people would say this because they knew some of the kids I grew up with would either end up imprisoned or die anonymously. The successful ones live ordinary lives with ordinary jobs and? ordinary families.
The wrestler Triple H, who portrayed a corporate villain for most of his career, once said in a storyline, “People ask me how I sleep at night for what I’ve done. Who has time for sleep?” My main objective was not just to publish, but bury everyone around me in publications in my path for an academic position.
If you have to be this person to achieve a dream, I’ll understand. But don’t be this person for very long. It took me two years to heal. Maybe I’m still healing. This country gives you contradictory instructions: do anything to get ahead, but also have a generous heart. You can’t be both Americans at once.
Please vote. Every two years the most successful democracy in human history asks for some free time. If you are confused about whom to vote for, ignore which politician lied during the campaign. They all lie. But it’s not their fault. Voters crave lies. They are addicted to lies in the same way people become addicted to love or cocaine. Lies feel so good in the moment that you’re encouraged to ignore the long-term cultural damage that’s occurring. Truth is complicated and messy and requires decades of discipline and study to comprehend, much like people.
Instead, ask yourself one key question. Which of these choices will contribute in some small way to the country that I want to live in? Change is slow and hard and often frustrating. Democracy tests you by assuming you’ll just give up. But you get to share your values with the world every two years. Plus, you get a sweet sticker!
That’s about all of the good advice I can provide. I can give you a treasure load of bad advice, but that’s why you spend time with your friends. Just make sure you set aside time to travel. Whether it’s a simple road trip or a transatlantic flight, there’s a world out there waiting to be discovered and waiting to discover you. Tell them hi for me.
Jeffrey MacLachlan is a Senior Lecturer of literature at Georgia College & State University. When he's not reading/writing, he is watching sports and sipping a Russian Imperial. His piece was a first attempt at a lyric essay and like most first attempts at writing, the sentences came out of their own accord. He wanted to document how much he cared about his students before fascism poisoned our already sick democracy.