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The year of _____: Reflections on vulnerability, memory and closure

My sophomore year at Carleton, I made a Medium post, titled “i journaled for a year and this is what i learned.” I took all the realizations I had come to in the past year, and I laid these intimate thoughts out for everyone to see as I shared a link to the post on Facebook. I’ve always been interested in the relationship between the public and the private, and how often our most personal posts on social media are still curated and carefully selected. Keeping that in mind, I uploaded direct quotes from my journal that I felt were important to share, and I tried not to think too much about how I was baring my soul on Facebook. Luckily, my friends’ comments applauding my courage to post these journal entries made me feel reassured. 

By creating and sharing something like this, I also felt wonderfully free and more comfortable letting people know that it’s okay not to be okay and that we can talk about it and have this conversation in a public setting. I was ready to no longer be this closed-off person, and I loved the feeling I got from being vulnerable and an open-book to people I knew back home and at Carleton. I thought to myself, “maybe all I needed to do to grow emotionally was to leave home and start anew in Northfield, Minnesota.” 

Then, I deleted the post. 

I don’t remember when nor the exact moments leading up to its virtual removal, but it is nowhere to be found. I even tried looking for it before writing this piece because I wanted some inspiration for what to say in my last few days as a Carleton student. Although that post is gone forever, I do have an understanding of why I made it and why it was eventually deleted. I know that my freshman year was the year of finding who I could trust and talk to about my worries and hopes. The year after, my sophomore year, was about finding comfort in this newfound vulnerability and taking the time to learn to be open with people after spending so long being closed-off. My junior year, the year I deleted my Medium post, was the year of knowing that I can choose when to be vulnerable and that I have the power to pick exactly with whom I want to share my thoughts. 

Each year needed the one before to lay down a different layer of growth. I can’t imagine what my Carleton experience would have looked like without the days of journaling, talking with friends about emotions that scared me and spending time alone to figure out who I was and what I wanted. 

Recently, I have been thinking about the concept of closure. Having left Carleton so abruptly mid-March, I have struggled with reconciling the loss of saying my final goodbyes to friends and professors, taking one last walk across campus and even whispering a farewell to the academic buildings I sometimes used to dread but mostly loved going into. 

A few nights ago, I finally got around to going through the boxes ResLife had sent me. I found myself smelling my clothes and thinking about the first memory that came to mind. I think the majority of the clothes just smelled like old boxes and storage spaces. Still, I was instantly transported to each time I opened the door to my new dorm room and the excitement I felt for the potential of the year ahead. I thought of each closet I’ve ever had at Carleton, containing clothes and belongings I would organize and put in their designated spaces until it was time to pack them up again. In some ways, using scent to bring back those memories felt like a goodbye; as I put each item back in the box, I said goodbye to the college student who wore them, wishing her well and thanking her for getting me to where I am today. 

Inside those boxes sent from Carleton were also the journals I kept. Without writing out my thoughts, I wouldn’t have come to so many realizations about myself, my relationships and what I wanted my future to look like. Sometimes, I’ll flip to a random entry in one of them and find my past self working out some thought or problem that I barely remember now. I think about how fickle memory is and how grateful I am to have documented so many of my experiences at Carleton. 

Along with being this nostalgic person, I’m also deeply idealistic. Each time I find myself thinking that a past situation was just so much better than life now, I just look up that date in my old journals as though I’m referring to an encyclopedia, and I am met with the reality of things. Even in those “good old days” I was still dealing with many of the stressors and worries that I carry in the present. I close the journal, internally thanking that past Hiba who didn’t know then how much her future self would need to hear those words, too. 

In my senior year at Carleton, I strengthened old friendships, worked to better understand myself and wondered what my final weeks on campus would look like. I spent many hours working on my Comps in the winter term, as most of us did, with the hope of finally relaxing and celebrating the end of college in the spring. I had planned on helping organize many spring term events, including Spring Concert and Rotblatt. I was unbelievably excited to finally graduate and have my family come from all over to see their eldest daughter, niece, sister and granddaughter walk across that stage. I had expected to have more time to do a number of things, but life changed, and it changed quickly. 

Spending my last Carleton term at home has been filled with so many different emotions. I always thought the only place I could grow as a person was at Carleton. I’m glad my time at home has shown me different. If anything, I’ve learned that Carleton was the starting place for my growth and now that I’m equipped with these tools, I can take that learning anywhere.  I am taking the time to sit and really be at home, which is not what I did these past few years. Home was always this temporary space before returning to college, but now I’m taking the time to settle down in a way that feels grounding and hopeful.

Each year at Carleton has been defined by a better understanding of myself and a chance to look at the year before and say, “this was the year of _______.” My senior year has been filled with changes that were unexpected and sudden. I felt the need to keep moving forward despite it all, whether that looked like packing up all my belongings at Carleton in four hours, adjusting to life under lockdown or acknowledging that I might not always get the closure I am expecting. Before writing, I wondered how to answer the question of what my Carleton experience has been like and how to quantify my 4-year college career into a few words. After some thinking and a bit of self-awareness, I now know to answer it this way: ask me next year. 

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