Written by Elizabeth Vietor
My most pressing concern the morning of March 6, 2020, was what my family would think of my boyfriend, who was coming home to Arizona with me over spring break to meet them. On top of that, I was scrambling to finish a class paper and the draft of my senior thesis in time to catch my flight. With weeks of work behind, deadlines not yet in sight, and my winter coat tired of being continuously pulled out of retirement to accommodate unexpected spring snows, the joys of Hillsdale were far from central in my mind. I liked school, of course, but in my head I was already smelling the orange blossoms of Phoenix.
I remember writing feverishly throughout that morning in the library and heading to my midday shift at A.J.’s at the appointed time. During the shift, my friend told me that the governor of Washington was considering shutting down the state’s airports for a time to slow the spread of the coronavirus. It’s impacting travel in America now? I thought. Crazy.
Classes were fascinating that afternoon, including an especially stimulating discussion in a class that had often been frustrating. Maybe we’re finally turning a corner, I remember thinking. Energized by that thought, I headed home to pack, and an hour later my boyfriend was waiting out front to drive us to the airport. Too bad that I didn’t get to say goodbye to my housemates, but it didn’t matter. I’d be seeing them in a week. We drove out of Hillsdale without a backward glance, Detroit-bound and dreaming of sunshine.
The place I returned to a week later was a ghost town. The windows of my friends’ houses were dark, and there were no cars in the driveways, none parked on campus. The library was shut, and the student union—even at 5 p.m.—was a void. I wouldn’t see it open again and still be a student.
It dawned on me that the last day of my senior year, I had driven off without looking back.
A short while ago a friend described the “Irish goodbye” to me, wherein the guest sneaks out of the party without thanking the host in order to avoid the inevitable drawn-out goodbye conversation. The ritual dispensed, guest and host both get on with their lives unhampered. Well, when I had anticipated an extended ceremony, complete with kisses and tears, I was instead given an Irish goodbye to Hillsdale. The closure I had expected with professors and friends, the senior events I had witnessed for three years, the Easter party my housemates and I had been planning, the feeling of turning in my last final exam in May when campus is finally warm and the dogwoods are blooming, never happened. The last day of school—that day in March was it.
I have had to think hard about what I have gained from my senior year ending this way. What I can say is that I remember Hillsdale as it was in full swing—no expectation of ceremony and optimism of springtime to tint my lenses rosy. So I didn’t get to make my peace with the place as intended, but so does no one, ultimately. And what did I gain? Some of the closest friends I’ve ever had, professors who challenged me, and a community that welcomes me back even as it encourages me to go forth. Some never experience that at all. So, Hillsdale, March 6 might have been my last day as a student, but as Sheldon Vanauken quotes C.S. Lewis in A Severe Mercy, “Christians never say goodbye.”
I remember you as you were. Ave atque vale.
Elizabeth Vietor, ’20, is a Latin major with an affinity for thrift shops, butter, and scrunchies. She hails from Phoenix, Arizona, originally, but now that she’s here, doesn’t know how she existed for so long without seeing the leaves change every fall.
Published in April 2020