After driving from California, I stayed in bed for a week crying while coping with the reality I did not reenlist in the United States Marine Corps. I felt as though a longtime friend died, and I never had the chance to say goodbye. I remorsed over the friendships I knew would eventually drift apart, the wonderful memories shared and the personal triumph that would now only remain enshrined in medals and accolades.
While Mercer University was a new experience in my life, the same sentimental feelings of loss surround me as graduation looms. Again, I realize the many relationships and people I have come to love will be moving on. Most of them will be moving on to fantastic new experiences as, admittedly, many of the class of 2012 are some of the most extraordinarily talented people I have ever met. Some will relocate to work in Washington D.C., attending graduate or law school, and entering exciting careers.
In a meaningless attempt to appease my ego, I convinced myself that the Marine Corps would crumble without me. Since I left, the war on terror continues, Osama Bin Laden has been killed and thousands of troops have been successfully deployed and returned from the front lines. To the say the least, both the Marine Corps and I have been fine since my departure.
Mercer University will also flourish after I, and the seniors, graduate. It is so exciting to see a football program come back to our campus. The new Center for Collaborative Journalism compliments the campus so well. The new apartments and bookstore have allowed student organizations to use the newly renovated Penfield Hall for events.
The major student organizations have also made tremendous strides since I came to Mercer. SGA has significantly improved Pilgrimage to Penfield, revitalized the Last Lecture Series and acted as a solid voice for the student body. The Cluster has become a powerful source of information for students to use. In the past, the student newspaper appeared mismanaged or neglected. Over the past three years, The Cluster has won more awards than I am able to appropriately name here.
This all points to a single conclusion, students can profoundly shape a university. Student dreams and ideas can accentuate the college experience of future students if those who really care about those ideas follow through on them. The Sex Trafficking Opposition Project (STOP) and the Local Engagement Against Poverty (LEAP) initiative are both great examples of this. The STOP conference led to the Macon City government passing legislation to make it tougher for brothels to pose as spas. LEAP pledged ten thousand hours of service dedicated to poverty prevention and alleviation. These programs were created during my college career and, hopefully, will continue after I am gone.
New students, however, have to carry those mantels that will be left by those who graduate. For those student organizations like The Cluster and SGA, it is much easier to find leaders for them because of their status on campus, but less visible organizations need leaders too. Both Mercer99 and Mercer Radio allow students to create and, for the most part, manage shows for anyone to listen to or watch. This is a grossly underused opportunity. This year, four of my best friends and I created a show called Young Puns where we talked for an hour about our favorite topics, mostly surrounding politics.
That experience was invaluable to my time at Mercer. We interviewed Newt Gingrich for goodness sakes. I admit, though, setting up the interview was much more exciting than the actual interview. While we had to overcome several obstacles to get the interview, I loved working hard with my best friends to accomplish something that was not for a grade.
That is the greatest lesson we hope to learn from college. The Christianity department might refer to it as a “calling.” In First Year Seminar, professors refer to it as a “vocation.” I was lucky enough to find mine here, a few really good friends, the love of my life and earned a degree along the way.
To those who are remaining, I hope you all take as many chances as I did. Do not graduate Mercer wishing you had done more. Dreams are the descendants of far-fetched ideas. Be passionate and never accept “no” as an answer. Get excited folks about where you are…you are going to miss this place one day.