A graduate reflects on the Top 50 Things to do before graduating
Looking at the boxes of stuff sitting before me in my tiny freshman-year dorm room, I could tell I overpacked.
As I slowly emptied containers of clothes, snacks and office supplies on move-in day, I felt like I was prepared for anything. However, I soon realized that my boxes of things were lacking one thing: decorations.
Other than a few photos to stick to my wall, the one decoration I did have was the stiff paper list that I received at my freshman orientation: “Top 50 things to do before graduating.”
It was a little cheesy, with items like name five famous DePaul alumni, eat a meal at every cafeteria section and memorize the acronyms for all the schools at DePaul, but for what it’s worth, I saved that paper as an unofficial guide to help me get to know DePaul.
So, when I started unpacking boxes in my freshman-year dorm, one of the first things I did was grab my command strips and secure the “Top 50” poster to the inside of my steel gray closet door.
Every day when I opened my closet, I was motivated to cross more things off of the list. Go to an Involvement Fair and sign up for at least 10 email lists. Attend a School of Music performance. Pose for a picture with DIBS.
As simple as these items were, checking off the “things to do” was helping me get out of my comfort zone and explore what my university had to offer.
My journey was cut short when, six months into the 2019-2020 academic year, the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing in Chicago and DePaul encouraged everyone to move out of the dorms.
There I was with my boxes again, only this time I packed all of my clothes, snacks and school supplies away. The list of 50 things was one of the last items to be shoved in a box before I moved back to my hometown in Wisconsin.
In my frenzy, I folded my paper in half and crammed it into some folder, not to be found again until recently.
In February of this year, just over a month before I was set to graduate from DePaul, I found the folded list of items while visiting my hometown.
It was funny to look at what had already been crossed off, like collect five free DePaul t-shirts (I have at least 12) and pull an all-nighter at the John T. Richardson Library (as I did my freshman year when I spent all night researching and writing my final speech for public speaking).
As I started going through the list again, I was happy to find that I could check off more and more of the bubbles next to the suggested “things to do.”
I was able to relax on the Quad on the first warm day of Spring Quarter because, coming back to school after taking four quarters online, I experienced my first in-person Spring Quarter in my junior year.
Coming back to campus junior year was almost like experiencing things as a freshman all over again.
As campus buildings reopened and old traditions were brought back, I could cross off even more items like admire the Chicago skyline from the track at The Ray and make your way to the front row of FEST.
I was not able to complete everything on the list. Some items have either gone away after DePaul’s year of COVID-19, like dine with alumni at Dinner on DePaul, or have since been renamed, like avoid the winter chill at Polarpalooza, DePaul’s winter concert that is now known as Demon Jam.
There are other items I know that I will complete in the future, including the very last item on the top 50 things to do: wear your cap and gown with pride at commencement. I secretly already have that box checked in anticipation of the day when I’ll walk with my peers across the commencement stage this June.
Looking at the list of checked and unchecked boxes, completed and uncompleted items, I started reflecting on how strange the past four years have been.
About a year ago, I published a piece for 14 East about how students felt about graduating early in a world where COVID-19 slashed their college experience short. Where a public health crisis, unprecedented changes to university health guidelines, online school, mass casualty and loss wrecked some of the most formative years of their lives.
They felt that by leaving school earlier than some of their peers, there was an even greater sense of loss and missing out on the college experience.
I found that for these students, graduation did not necessarily feel celebratory.
I began reporting knowing that I too was on track to graduate early from DePaul. As a winter 2023 graduate, I can say that while I have mixed emotions about finishing my education, and there are lingering effects from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am in a place where I can celebrate.
Coming back to Chicago and DePaul was a new beginning after what felt like an immeasurable tragedy. Even though no item on DePaul’s list mentioned friendship or building community, that was a big item I was able to check off thanks to the journalism department and student media.
Taking my first journalism class led to declaring journalism as a second major, which led to joining student media, which changed my life.
The people I’ve met through 14 East and beyond built a new sense of community that was invaluable coming out of isolation. Not to mention that I was constantly inspired by the amazing reporting, art and work created by our staff.
I felt like I found my place and my calling, something that college is supposed to help you with.
I crossed off 37 out of the 50 items on DePaul’s list, but I feel like I checked off 100 items of my own.
Header Illustration by Madeline Smith