Beginnings are hard.
It’s hard to know what to do with a blank slate. It’s tough to convincingly insert yourself, your questions or your ideas right off the bat. It’s hard to know what to say on your first day of school, where to start a new conversation or even how to begin a column.
But for all our bemoaning, beginnings aren’t always that big of a deal.
In writing, for instance, beginnings can be easy. You can start a piece with just about any boring, general statement (see above) and most readers will forget about it by the time they get to the end.
In football, you can have a bad first quarter and make up for it before the game is over. You can have an awful first day of school or a rough start to a conversation and redeem yourself later on. Sure, beginnings are hard, but even if they don’t go well, you still have time to fix it.
Truthfully, it’s not beginnings that worry me. It’s endings that are the hardest.
Endings are, of course, final, and once they happen, that’s it. It’s over. No more. And if you weren’t happy with how it ended, you have no time left to make up for it.
This is difficult when you’re reflecting on something like the end of your undergraduate years in college because you only get one chance to encapsulate that experience, to convey all that it’s meant to you and everything you will miss.
Summing up the end of college is particularly daunting because it’s an ending that is distinct and unmistakable. You know exactly what day it happens.
Other endings are less clear. They can be subjective, noisy and muddled. When did Rome fall? When did flip phones become uncool? When did you stop caring about your grades? When did we all give up on Butch Jones?
We don’t know when exactly these ended, but they all certainly did, and they all happened surreptitiously, without warning and without ceremony. Because the end of college is so definite, it adds extra pressure to make sure it ends well, to make sure you say and do all that you’d like to.
Some of us are better at endings than others. Many people have grand endings to their careers. Peyton Manning was able to win a Super Bowl in his final season before retiring, and other athletes like Ray Lewis, Joe DiMaggio and David Robinson did the same in their respective leagues.
Other people are skilled at punctuating the end of something. In “Slaughterhouse-Five,” Kurt Vonnegut creates a brief but powerful way to denote an end. Throughout the book, he signifies each death with a shrug of the shoulders and acceptance of reality using one simple phrase: “So it goes.”
Maybe I’m belaboring the point, but all of this worrying about good endings may be justified. We often want to make a good final impression, and behavioral psychology tells us that it’s possibly worthwhile.
A cognitive bias called the peak-end rule shapes the way we remember past events and experiences. For any given experience, there are two moments that make the biggest impression on our memory: one during the most intense moment (the peak) and the other when the experience draws to a close (the end).
The way we end an experience impacts the way we remember it and the way people remember us. It affects what we glean from our experiences and how we reminisce.
All that is to say that there’s even more pressure to have a good ending.
But when thinking about the end of my own time in college, I don’t want to overstate its importance. It’s easy to get caught up romanticizing our own experiences, especially at this time in life, but I desperately want to resist that urge.
As Joan Didion said, “one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before.”
And she’s right. It’s all happened before. I’m not that special. Plenty before me have done the things I’ve done, and plenty after me will do the same (and hopefully better). I don’t want to tell you that I’ve changed the world, and I don’t want to pretend I’ve accomplished much beyond passing some classes and making some friends.
But while I may not be special, it doesn’t mean that the experience hasn’t been special to me. I’m glad, and above all things grateful, for the things I’ve had the chance to do and the people I’ve had the chance to meet. My time at UT has been better than I could have imagined, and this campus has certainly become my home.
Sure, there are plenty of things I might have done differently. I didn’t read as much as I would’ve liked to. I didn’t always focus my attention particularly well. I never did get the chance to talk basketball with Rick Barnes.
I don’t regret the things that I’ve tried, though, and working with the Daily Beacon is among the best of them. I’m so glad have had the chance to read, write and work with this group.
But I’ve spent all this time talking about endings, and I haven’t made a good one for myself. I’ve probably rambled so much that I’ve botched any chance I had. The truth is that I don’t even know what to say. All I know to do is be grateful for the experience, be happy with what I’ve done and move on to whatever’s next.
So it goes.
Evan Newell is a senior majoring in Chemical Engineering. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.