College is a Little Like Free-Fall

Imagine the ground being pulled away from your feet like a magician whisking away a tablecloth. Imagine you are falling, falling towards the center of the Earth. After fifteen seconds of free fall you will be convinced you’ve been falling for minutes, maybe even hours.

This is not because, as scientists initially suspected, adrenaline speeds up physical abilities and sensory perception so time appears to pass more slowly. No, time slows down in free fall because in a life-threatening situation you don’t know what information will be useful to you, so you take it all in. You remember everything.

When you enter free fall, time thickens. There is the same amount of time, but it is fat with memories and noticings. The moment when I flipped over the handles of my bicycle fell to the ground felt so much longer than any of the breakfasts I’ve eaten this year. It’s like fishing in the river of time with a net instead of a spear.

Commencement is a little like free fall. Significant events and rites of passage slow time down. Make it thick. We will remember the weather today better than most days. When we think of each other in the future, we will remember each other the way we looked today. You will remember this speech better, than if I told you over dinner, or published it in the CLAP. That’s what ceremonies are for. They remind us to remember.

But let’s extend that a little farther. Commencement isn’t about remembering commencement day. It’s about remembering the four years that led up to it. Four, thick, fat, heavy years. College too, is a little like free fall, and even though we speed through it like a fourth-grader sprinting through an aquarium, we should remember that our four years here were thick and spacious, and full of shiny fish. What will we remember?

It would be a mistake for us to think that we have spent our entire college career as the people we are now. Caring about the things we care about now.  But if we’re not careful, we will let our younger selves disappear.

These days I identify primarily as a writer. I did my creative COMPS for the English major in poetry, and gave a twenty minute COMPS talk on how I developed into a writer. It seemed to narrow though, put too much emphasis on Todd the Poet. What about Todd the Frisbee Player? Or Todd the Musician? Todd the Roommate? I would like to think, that like Walt Whitman I am vast. I contain multitudes. I am one Todd right now, but I am also as many Todd’s as I can remember.

I am still Todd the Trombone Player at jazz concerts. I am still Todd the Sophomore homebody when there is an empty afternoon and some Super Smash Brothers to be played. I am still Todd in Tokyo when close my eyes and smile at the center of massive crowds of people.

We never stop being who we have been. It is important that we take the time to remember, lest we forget who we are.

College has been a little like freefall because we took so many chances here. We tried new things, we met people that challenge us. We had to rise to the challenge. We never knew what knowledge we gained would be useful to us later. So we had to soak it all up. We never knew which of our selves we’d want to be in the future, so we had to soak them up too.

Let’s never hit the ground. Let’s fall with our memories trailing behind us like a flying V. As we leave this place, it will be up to us now, to take chances, to surround ourselves with people that challenge us, to live in time thick enough to fit all the people we want to be.

We can’t live forever, but we can live for a while. If we live in free fall time, we will have found a marble chunk of whatever Fountain of Youth Ponce de Lyon was looking for in Florida all those years ago.

This is better than healthy diets or regular exercise. Why are we only concerned with extending the length of our lives? What about the width? The area? The volume? If our lives are boxes, let’s make them heavy.

Let’s never hit the ground. Let’s fall through that thick, dark tunnel of time spreading out before us like the esophagus of a dragon. Let’s not be afraid.

Let’s never hit the ground.