It’s OK, you can keep the past with you

Anyone who has ever moved will confirm that goodbyes are never enough to satisfy our regrets for what we know we will miss. The final handshakes and farewells usually wind up being either more or less dramatic than they should. We know that friends and family never really say goodbye anyway.
Some of you came thousands of miles to study here at the University, leaving families, homes and cities that you knew as your own. Others, myself included, traveled not nearly as far and have had the privilege of studying in our own backyards.
Two weeks from today, I will be outta here. The bags are being packed as you read this and I’m flying the coup, beginning new a journey in life’s collective experiences.
It’s off to the University of Florida, gatorland, to apply all of the most important lessons discovered from life in the Midwest, on and off campus. I anticipate a moment of truth in trying to live out of the “Minnesota nice” that I’ve been enveloped by for nearly my whole life. It will also be a chance to test southern waters with a list of Sven and Ole jokes, just in case conversations about the weather get dull.
We all will be taking similar journeys, if you haven’t already. But none of us ever really leave this place. The University will always be in our brains, our guts, our minds and the deepest part of our being, if not actually in our suitcases.
Students from any background can remember Hillary Clinton speaking at the 1995 commencement ceremonies, the Gopher’s basketball team’s recent tournament victories, the $249 million dollar coup pulled off by Mark Yudof, and those walks across the Washington Avenue Bridge, some more pleasant than others. We will all have created relationships that will last a lifetime, on personal, academic and professional levels.
These are things that — sometimes even more than studies themselves — make attending the University an experience with meaning and one worth our valuable time and money.
But they are also means to an end much greater than a diploma. No GPA, no internship, no Minnesota Student Association victory can singularly capture what it is we came here for. And no matter how urgent the next test or new job lead may appear, there will be countless more to come our way in new places and circumstances that we had never expected, as incoming freshmen or Ph.D. recipients.
You have all heard the adages, “you can never go back,” or simply, just “don’t look back.”
Look back. Even if some of those memories aren’t so wonderful, they are who you are and will always be. Besides, as we history students insist, if you forget your past, your future will be doomed.
You have also been reminded to travel lightly in your journeys by veterans who aren’t always talking about luggage.
I say, damn the torpedoes — take it all with. You can and you have to. My fellow history grads will verify that in some way or form, we obsess over this simple truth because it is the only way to come to terms with who we are and where we want to be.
I’m reminding myself of this time and again as I sift through the stacks and mountains of baggage that is being boxed, bagged, and compacted from over the years for the upcoming trip.
There’s stuff in these archives that most people in their right mind would never take seriously — a Charlie the Tuna plastic figurine, which has a value that even I cannot fully understand, a broken, foot-shaped ash tray that has yet to fall to the wayside, hotel wash cloths from parts unknown, still folded neatly, and Dr. Seuss books packaged neatly next to Black’s law dictionary that will hopefully, someday, be put back to good use.
There’s also a whole box of letters that have somehow become valuable, in capturing significant moments, written by friends who are still friends and will stay that way, regardless of whether they have moved or the fact that I am about to.
Sure, I have brought myself to lighten the load just a bit by throwing out a small pile of form letters and empty envelopes that mysteriously accumulated. Many of the authors and organizations have disappeared into obscurity.
But last night, I sifted through yet another box full of papers written more than 10 years ago for a high school English class. Some of them were better written than others, and I suppose, from an objective point of view, at least half of them are just occupying space.
Yes, the trip might be easier if I packed lightly and got rid of some of these things.
But in 10 years I haven’t been able to throw them out. Nor do I think I ever will. They’ve already been transferred from home to Wisconsin, back home, to Kenwood, back home, to Prospect Park, back home, back to campus, and now, God knows where.
To a certain degree, we just have to believe in fate for some of life’s journeys to be meaningful. Pursuing a career, meeting new people, discovering new ideas, building a family — they’re all things that can fall into place if we simply work at letting them happen.
Never mind this nonsense about traveling lightly or never looking back.
Any move requires us to assign a value to the things we think should come with us as we prepare for new opportunities and perspectives. Every day we will continue to sift through the mountains of memories captured in words, pictures and artifacts. Whether the next trip is to the corner grocery store or parts unknown, I doubt any of us would ever leave if we couldn’t take our dreams with.
Peace.

Gregory Borchard’s column appeared Fridays. He can still be reached with comments via e-mail at [email protected]