It was an invitation I could not say no to.
After 25 years from my college graduation, I was invited back to my university alma mater for a conference. These days, the university campus has evolved from a few buildings that used to be located along the oval to a campus with more modern edifices meant to house new deg- ree programs.
To be back in the university campus felt very familiar. Benitez Hall felt exactly like being in the company of an old childhood friend who saw you grow up.
Walking through its corridors brought back memories of university days spent with college friends. I guess you never really forget every nook and cranny the campus has—from its one-way streets, to walking pathways that bring you from one end of the campus to the other. The corridors felt and looked exactly the same—with tall dark brown wooden doors and expansive lobby.
Ironically, 20 years later it seemed as if time had not touched the old ceramic tiles and the marble columns that welcomed me back. Once again, I was reminded of the carefree college days and its simple joys—when life was uncomplicated and your only preoccupation was bumping into your college crush as you chased one class after another.
Yet being back also felt different. Despite the nostalgia, the sense of longing to be back in its fold was lost on me. This absence of longing was what felt most ironic to me. For many years after graduation, I had regretted not pursuing a professional academic career in my alma mater. In my years close to graduation, it was a dream career path I considered for my future. But for the first time in a long while, I had not really thought about those choices.
Strangely, even if the concrete building had barely been touched—painted over but not changed, I felt oddly out of place. The people were different. Or was I different? I thought that perhaps, older and more mature this time, things were simply not the same from two decades back. My perceptions of what I thought were opportunities I sought back then were not what I sought now.
I’m often reminded of the Ecclesiastes proverb: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under hea–ven.” I’m not quite certain if this is the perfect reminder that makes sense of how I felt. But for certain, as the years go by, there are places and people we cannot expect to remain the way they were. Or perhaps, as our priorities change and as other opportunities come, what seemed most important then is not what matters most later in life.
I guess you can never go back to your youth—you need to move on and learn from the best memories of your youth or your past even. Perhaps it was fortuitous that being back did not bring with it a sense of longing or regret for not staying on. After all, we realize the wisdom of our life choices only when we look back on these later on.