I grew up hearing that university would be the best years of my life, where I would figure everything out. I would come out the other end with a better understanding of myself and the world, and after graduating, my friends and I would look back on these years fondly. Now, in my final semester at McGill, I am realizing that while my university experience has not always been smooth sailing, this may well be the time of my life so far. My time in university is not done yet, but I already find myself missing it.
Nostalgia is odd: I can’t really find another word to describe the bittersweetness of reminiscing over good memories. Nostalgia for the present, for something that is not finished yet, is even stranger. There is something unsettling about being acutely aware of the fact that the present moment is temporary, making it both beautiful and heartbreaking. I know that I will, in all likelihood, never again have as much freedom as I do now. The ability to work different jobs throughout the year, to take any of the classes I want, and to crash on my friend’s couch when I accidentally stay past the last metro’s run will not last forever.
A good friend of mine coined the term “Mamma Mia years” to describe this chapter of our lives. Although it started out as a joking reference to the young and carefree attitudes of the characters in the 2018 movie Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again, I have come to find that the term perfectly encapsulates how I feel about my time at university. It is easy to mock––and I do––the naïveté that comes with being 20-years-old. We devote hours and hours each week to activities like improv theatre and hackathons. Though they may one day seem inconsequential, there is also something special about the genuine thrill of watching your friends do everything from performing in an adaptation of Medea, to organizing campus labour unions, and climate protests, and knowing that, right now, at 21 years old, all of these things do matter immensely. It is the people that I have surrounded myself with, and the opportunity to see them grow and prosper, that will make this part of my life so hard to leave behind.
I have done my best to experience the past three years as they happened, but I still find myself obsessing over remembering every detail of a night spent at a birthday party or summer walks up Mont Royal. Pages upon pages of journal entries detail the exact chronological order of events from nights spent watching movies and playing Jenga with people I may never again see after graduation. The awareness of the temporary nature of young adulthood has made me both more appreciative of all of the joyful moments, and more anxious about the change that comes with next steps. I don’t know if I will ever find a resolution to this duality, but I am also learning that maybe it does not need to be resolved. Nostalgia for the present can give an experience an extra layer of significance that I have come to appreciate.
“The awareness of the temporary nature of young adulthood has made me both more appreciative of all of the joyful moments, and more anxious about the change that comes with next steps.”
With all of this in mind, it is important to remember that my own university experiences, as well as those of many other students, have not always been easy. McGill makes seeking and receiving mental health care difficult and inaccessible, balancing jobs and school is a reality for plenty of us, and institutional barriers to accommodations are something that many marginalized students have to navigate their way around. I believe my “Mamma Mia years” have been in spite of the university, not because of it.
I have accepted that this may be as good as it gets, but that doesn’t necessarily bother me anymore. I know that the next chapter of my life can still bring me joy, even with the inevitable changes.
“Standing clearly at the crossroads, no desire to run. There’s no hurry anymore, when all is said and done.” —Andersson, Ulvaeus.