Four years. It’s become one of our standard measurements for the passage of time. We have four years in a presidential term, four years in high school and four more in college.
Especially with high school and college, we see how much were conditioned to split our lives into four-year terms. The expectation is that at the conclusion of those four years we will see a vast change in our lives.
This week is Finals Week at Pacific Lutheran University. Saturday will be commencement and 800 students will receive their college diplomas. It’s been interesting to witness some of the stress and excitement, some of the packing and some of the goodbyes. I’ve seen it the past several years at other schools, but the big difference for me this year is that it brings back memories of the last time I was on PLU’s campus at this time of year.
It was exactly four years ago.
Four years ago I was the one doing the packing, saying goodbye and preparing to receive my diploma. I was the one reflecting on how quickly the previous four years had flown by and wondering in terror what the next four years would bring and where I would find myself four years later.
On the surface it seems as if the past four years have flown by for me without anything changing, but that’s only half true. It really does seem like time speeds up the older you get, and the past four years have flown by. But they’ve also been probably the biggest, most important four years of my life.
Four months after graduating I moved to Portland to begin a sports information internship at Concordia University. Ten months later I was given the opportunity to move to Ashland, Ore., for my first full-time position as sports information director at Southern Oregon University.
I’ll always remember cramming my car full of clothes and whatever else I might need (which was about the equivalent of three duffel bags… storage space is not one of my car’s greatest attributes) on a Sunday and driving down to Ashland to begin work the next day. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do when a deer decided it would be fun to just chill by my car while I was trying to unpack, but I guess that was a pretty solid introduction to Ashland.
It’s almost impossible to believe now that I only lived in Ashland for a little over two years; those two years introduced me to some of the most amazing people I could ever hope to have in my life. Those two years saw me climb mountains, see a ton of movies (for free!), sing a lot of karaoke, eat 12 tacos in one sitting and discover passions I never knew I had.
Then last summer changed everything yet again when I had the opportunity to come home to PLU. It only felt slightly different being back on campus as a staff member rather than a student (especially since most people who saw me probably thought I was a student), but the big shock came a few months in when I had a chance to sit in on an editorial board meeting for the student newspaper.
I wrote for the newspaper all four years as a student and was thrilled when one of my former professors asked me to stop by the meeting, but I never expected it to turn into a question-and-answer session as the students asked me for advice as they pursued their collegiate and career goals. I’d just never seen myself as someone mature and experienced enough to have meaningful wisdom to share in that way.
So I did what I do best: I quoted The Office. I mentioned Andy Bernard’s words from the series finale, when he looks back on his time at Dunder Mifflin and says, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” My advice: these are the good old days. Enjoy them. Don’t be afraid to say no to something rather than taking on so much responsibility that you drown in all your classwork and resume stuffers.
So often we focus our lives on some abstract future goal. It’s great to have goals for our lives, but too often we don’t make them tangible, and it’s amazing how unachievable intangible goals are. But the biggest issue with intangible goals isn’t that we don’t reach them; the biggest issue is that we strain our focus so strongly on them that we miss out on the life we’re experiencing on the road.
Most of those students on that editorial board will be walking up to the stage at the Tacoma Dome on Saturday to receive their diplomas, a trek I made four years ago as they were graduating high school and preparing to begin their PLU journey.
Four years. Everything changes. But these are the good old days. And next year will be the good old days, as well as the year after that. Wherever you find yourself in four years, remember Andy’s words and cherish the journey. And vote. Because presidential terms are four years, and midterm elections are just as important.