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AJ Davis: Finding meaning in the small moments

Anticlimactic. That is the descriptor most used when discussing graduation for the class of 2020. Some of us may be fortunate enough to enjoy a double commencement, while others unable to attend will miss two ceremonies instead of one. We’ve lost the final revels of Spring Weekend, the mornings at Louis and cramming in the Rock or SciLi when Providence gets its first glimmers of the spring sun on the Quiet Green. The moment of collective relief at the edge of our academic careers, met with fear of the impending future as we are handed our diplomas, won’t come to pass until next May.  

As of late, I’ve found myself particularly nostalgic and deprived of the insignificant and unexpectedly profound moments I experienced at Brown. An event as mundane as a friend blurting out something ridiculous and crying as you laugh on the floor. Or when you help someone close to you through a trying time or a breakup by going for a walk downtown. I miss the late nights and the early mornings with the people I’ve collectively matured with these past four years. It’s a small price to pay in the current situation. I’m fortunate that I’m safe. That said, not having those final moments does truly suck. 

 During this crisis, it’s hard not to be consumed by all that has been lost privately and publicly. But I’ve gained something in quarantine, a time to reflect. For once in my life, I have no meetings, assignments, coffees to get with friends, parties (I don’t go to many, but I’m trying to relate to you), study sessions or an uncertain future banging on my conscience. All we can do is wait in isolation. I’m in a room with my computer, some books and the life I’ve lived thus far. In a sense, graduation is a time to reminisce, a time for those who helped you get to college to be proud. It’s a day to remember, but one that inevitably ends in its own anticlimactic way.

I will remember my last day on Brown’s campus as apocalyptic. I was packing up my dorm room and loading my life into a U-Haul to drive home. Two of my closest friends, Bilal and Stefan, accompanied me for the journey. It was a short road trip down the I-95 that perfectly encapsulated all of the joys, laughs and challenging lessons that Brown offered me over four years.   

The day I left college felt the same as the day I arrived. I experienced the sensation of being lighter than air itself, marked by overwhelming fear and a little excitement. Entering Brown was marked by the chaotic exit from high school and entrance into an unknown world. I stepped through the Van Wickle gates six months sober from drugs and alcohol, not knowing if I’d make it through two weeks of classes, much less graduate. I came to college without an identity, wanting to forget my past indiscretions and character flaws and recreate the image of myself for those around me. It was a shallow goal, but a real one for anyone moving to a new place. I wanted to feel as though I belonged somewhere and I had no idea who I actually was yet. The two friends traveling with me within the confines of the dusty U-Haul felt precisely the same way when they began their time at Brown.  

As we merged onto I-95 South, boxes shuffled in the back as Stefan blasted the latest Tame Impala album. Coming into Brown, he had hoped to be part of a team of artists that would challenge him to pursue his intellectual and creative endeavors, a home. Over the year I’ve gotten to know him, we’ve jumped into various adventures headfirst: filmmaking, writing essays and books together, packing and a road trip ending a chapter in my life. Stefan is a person who encouraged me to learn by doing and failing. He wanted his college experience to be shaped by a band of creative weirdos who would push and care for him no matter where his journey led, and he found us. 

Bilal held his phone against the windshield, trying to frame the perfect photo of the velvet and flamingo pink sunset against a row of trees. He dropped his phone in his lap as we passed the trees. Bilal’s only response was to adjust his glasses, smile and laugh like Tommy Wiseau in “The Room.” He’s a poster child for optimism and one of my substance-free compatriots. We navigated our education through a shared sober lens for differing reasons, but supported each other. When I first met Bilal at a SoBear event, he told me his plan during his first year was “to know everyone and bring joy into their lives.” A lofty goal, but with a smile like his you almost believed he could do it. He wanted to build community and care for everyone who intersected with his beliefs and identities as a first-generation, low-income refugee student. His beautiful soul inspired me to be joyful against the odds and to appreciate my own quirks.

These two figures and others like them are the friends we’ve all had at Brown. People who didn’t necessarily have a  background similar to our own. They inspire, support, challenge and teach you about the world as they see it. They say yes every time you suggest an adventure. You are still texting them paragraphs during the pandemic. They’re your weirdos, compatriots and those who can teach you how to learn and live. This ride wasn’t about the 30-minute argument comparing Lead Belly’s song “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” to Nirvana’s acoustic cover version, a debate that distracted us from the question on all of our minds: “When will we see each other again?” It was that I met people willing to help me, who wanted to have that conversation for no other reason than to have a final moment together. We did. It was awesome. I will never forget the kindness and selflessness they showed me during our days in Providence.

  At Brown, I learned who I was by living with others and cultivating a community of care. We are each a confluence of our experiences. The spectacular and fantasized moments of success, like a celebration, rarely replicate times of genuine connection and unexpected bliss. Nothing can take those precious moments from us. I loved my Brown experience because of the people who made it so exceptional, whether it was in the classroom, in the creation of SoBear, on film sets or playing board games instead of going to parties. Our college careers shouldn’t be marked by what we lost during the pandemic. I will remember it for what I gained, a community I’m proud to be a part of and a place where I felt safe to learn from failure. Class of 2020, we had the climatic journey itself, instead of the bittersweet ending. It was the little moments on College Hill that fundamentally changed me for the better, not the final ceremony. 

Thank you, faculty, for your wisdom, alums, for your support and Class of 2020, for your consistent inspiration. I love you. Stay safe. See you next May to continue the climb.



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