It began when I arrived back in New York for the fall semester of my senior year. The MTA service change poster at Canal Street said “R — 14 months,” and I realised with a pang that when the Montague Tunnel reopened in October 2014, I would no longer be a New Yorker.
I came to New York City because I realised that if I were anywhere else, I would spend all my time thinking about how to come to New York.
Now that I am about to leave, I spend all my time thinking about how to come back.
At the start of the spring semester, I fill out my calendar with my classes and other obligations. My last class ever at NYU will be Learning to Speak: The First and Second Language Acquisition of Sound, taught by Lisa Davidson and Frans Adriaans.
As a film major, there is something dissatisfying about this. I want my final class to be a film class — how could it not be?
At a League of Linguistics Students (LOLS) meeting, Helena tells me that Lourdes Dávila, my advisor in the Spanish department, thinks I’ve already graduated. This news hits me harder than I expect.
The Film and TV registration office is in the habit of making witty posters to remind people to sign up for advising, posters that show up in the most intrusive places, such as on the inside doors of toilet cubicles. For Fall 2014 advising, they have gone for famous artworks and smart-ass captions, things like a Van Gogh self-portrait: “Lend your advisor an ear!"
The one on the inside door of the first floor bathroom cubicle is Dalí’s Persistence of Memory: “How time melts away!”
Speaking Freely classes last ten weeks.
“Is this next week our last lesson?” I ask Pablo at his Catalan class.
“I don’t know. I should know this. I’ll email you,” says Pablo.
Next week is the last week. I know. I counted. It’s in my calendar. I can’t come next week.
This is the last time I will see Pablo.
In Documentary Production Workshop, Marco has come to the conclusion that there won’t be enough time left in the semester to get through everyone’s work, and suggests adding an additional class on Reading Day, Tuesday, May 13.
My last class at NYU will be Documentary Production Workshop, 9:00am to 4:45pm, with Marco, with whom I have taken four classes in my time at NYU. I am pleased at this plot twist.
After my final LOLS meeting, I walk out of the Linguistics building with Katie and Amanda, along Washington Place, towards Broadway. On the corner, I say, “I turn right here,” knowing they will be turning left.
“Goodbye forever,” says Katie.
“Have a good life,” says Amanda.
I am supposed to meet Larry in Chat Gunter’s office one hour before Production Sound starts. Instead, I find Chat himself there.
“What are you going to do, kiddo?” Chat asks.
“I’m heading home to Singapore,” I say.
In the doorway, Chat says a few words, hugs me, taps me on the arm, and disappears into his office.
In the elevator, I try to remember the last words Chat said to me, but in just the space of a few minutes they are lost forever. All I remember is his hug and the tap on my arm.
My Facebook status, May 9:
I have decided that the best thing I can do to round up four years of film school is to compile a list of Marcoisms. All current and former students of Marco are welcome to contribute to this list.
To start us off:
1. Parallel lines converge at the horizon.
I am in 10 Washington Place, the Linguistics building, to see Lisa Davidson for what I feel certain will be the last time. I have some legitimate questions to ask for my paper — is there an existing theoretical framework for understanding bilingual acquisition of sound? — but really, I am there because I feel compelled to tell her that I’m graduating and that I appreciate her being a part of my four years at NYU.
And yet once my questions are done and the moment comes, the entirety of my range of verbal expression fails me, and I am left with a limp wave as I leave her office.
I am in 19 University Place, the Languages and Literature Building, to make an appointment with Jordana Mendelson through Noelia.
“I’m graduating,” I say, “and I emailed Jordana to ask if I could come to her office hours for a chat.”
Noelia pulls out her calendar to schedule a meeting. I give her my N number and my email address.
“What’s your reason for the meeting?” she grins.
“I have no idea,” I admit. Suddenly “to catch up,” “to keep in touch” and the like seem trivial and time-wasting. Do people make formal appointments through administrators “to catch up”?
“How about ‘I’m graduating and I’ll miss you all’? she grins extra wide.
The elevator doors open.
“Or you could just talk to her now,” says Noelia.
Talking to Jordana feels different from talking to Lisa or Katie or Amanda. The prospect that I will never see her again does not hang over my head the same way. Maybe it’s because I didn’t expect to see her when I did, creating the illusion that finality is not predestined.
She tells me, over and over, that I must keep up with my Spanish, that I must tell her about my films, that we must keep in touch. I promise her I will.
I have just finished my Learning to Speak paper, the last undergrad paper I will ever write. I compose an email to Lisa and Frans - it’s automatic now, ld43, fa46, Hello Lisa and Frans, Here’s my final project paper for Learning to Speak. Cheers, Grace. For a flickering instant I contemplate sending the email as is - businesslike, no nonsense, to the point.
But I know I will kick myself forever if I don’t say something, especially after my lame hand-wave at Lisa earlier today. So I tell them - thank you. Thank you for a great semester, thank you for being part of a great four years, congrats on getting married, Frans.
I send it. A strange thing happens.
I find myself glued to my seat on the 8th floor of Bobst, unable to leave. I hate Bobst. I only come here to finish work that refuses to be done, and then I get out as soon as I can. But today, I can’t. I feel that such a momentous moment deserves a meditation.
So I sit here and think, knowing that when I leave, it will be forever.
I hated Bobst. The moment I get up to leave, I know I will become indifferent to it. I know that one day I will look back on Bobst with fondness, and maybe even allow myself to believe that I loved Bobst, secretly. And all that will happen the moment I stand up to go.
There are 32 comments on my Facebook status asking for Marcoisms, ranging from “people can only give what they can give” to “don’t ask to ---- on the first date”.
During a break, Rob suggests we put it up on the screen so Marco can see it, which is what we promptly do. Marco walks in and the class begins to laugh. He is first bemused, then amused.
“Why didn’t you tag me in this?” he asks.
“You said you don’t add students as friends,” I reply.
Class ends late and I’m in a hurry, but I force myself to stop outside 721 Broadway for the moment to sink in. I will never be a student in this building again.
I add Marco on Facebook. He accepts.
It’s the night before Commencement. Tonight, the Empire State Building is purple, for me.
I’m on 28th and Fifth, trying to take a good picture of the Empire State Building. The angles are bad. A sign here, a banner there, things get in the way. My lens is too short, I can’t get a good frame. I tell myself that however the next photo turns out, it will be the last one. It turns out badly.
Frustrated, I set off along 28th Street towards Broadway, where the NR subway is.
Suddenly, on my right, a gap between buildings opens up and I have a perfect, unobstructed, dead-on view of the Empire State Building.
Yankee Stadium. I sit through a bunch of platitudes, turn my tassel from the right to the left, and wonder why this ending feels unsatisfactory. Maybe it’s the largeness and impersonalness of it. Maybe it’s my complete and utter antipathy to highly symbolic and extravagant displays of pomp and circumstance involving medieval dresses and silly hats. Maybe it’s the limbo of knowing the Tisch Salute is yet to come.
Radio City Music Hall. The wait to walk is interminable. Nobody seems to know what’s going on, and it’s hot and stuffy. “I need all of you to make two rows, like in Top Gun,” says the man who works in the Film and TV registration office. Sam tells Lucas and me the story of how he once let a contact lens dry up. It’s funnier when he tells it. I spot Alex in the crowd and tap him on the shoulder. “We both have no middle names in the program,” he says. The fact that he noticed is oddly comforting.
Finally, the line starts to move, and the walk from the holding area to the stage is also interminable, full of twisting hallways and hastily-drawn arrows on paper.
The walk across the stage is over far too quickly. I settle into my seat for the ceremony, which turns out to be much more entertaining than the All-University Commencement. I wouldn’t have expected anything less, really. I spot Marco in the faculty delegation. Martin Scorsese gives an excellent speech. The chairs of each department tell their graduates how much they love them. I nod off a little. Sam and I comment on how long this is taking, how hungry we are.
After a beautiful Ragtime medley, the names of all the graduates scroll up the screens at Radio City Music Hall, in alphabetical order. Lucas’s goes by, then Sam’s; it will be a long wait for T. The crowd slowly seeps out of the house, but I keep my eyes glued to the screen even as I get up to leave; I don’t want to miss the moment. So many names I recognise, some of people I met once, some of people I know too well. The names of the people I crossed paths with once and never met again are the ones that delight me, lives that ran in parallel throughout our time at NYU, meeting here and diverging again, to know that they, too, made it out the other side.
The Ss pass, and the Ts start. I spot Alex’s name go by without a middle name, then Kirsten’s, finding myself relieved that she’s finally graduating, and then mine. It scrolls up the screen. I exhale.
And with a Zúñiga, the list is complete.
It is the perfect ending to film school, watching the cast of characters that formed my experience scroll through the screens like the ending credits of a movie. Yankee Stadium was a false ending. This is the real one.
I remove my tassel and leave my academic gown and cap at the door of Radio City Music Hall, and emerge into the Midtown afternoon.