every day i find another gray hair on my head.

Maybe it was the stress of graduation, but my brand-new Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology leaves me more likely to believe that the real reason is because my genetic blueprint has me set to start showing this sign of growing up somewhere in my early twenties. I'll be 22 in a little over a month.

All week, Nicki and I have been texting non-stop. I was the first to get a "big girl job" offer for a teaching position; she was the first to actually start a "big girl job" as a long-term sub.

"i got drooled on so much today...but got tater tots. why is this job so 50/50"
"i feel like 50/50 is the theme of the real world"

"life at leitrims was just so much easier."

Meanwhile, Kim has started "big girl apartment"-hunting for her year in graduate school, looking to live in a place where the main decor on the living room walls is not a wrap-around of side panels from cases and 6-packs of beer, but maybe something a bit classier. Although she was living with us, Becca has been in a "big girl job" since February, where she will continue to be until she moves to New Mexico. And while she technically has yet to really say goodbye to her undergrad experience at Assumption, August will be here soon enough, at which point Maggie will have to be a "big girl volunteer" on her own in Houston.

We're not old by any stretch of the word. We're babies, just finally becoming real people with real purposes making real contributions to society. Little baby adults.

Adults. Grown ups. People who must now make the neccessary moves to be on their own.

This becomes clear to me sitting in Starbucks on a Thursday afternoon with Liz, who has also recently found herself with a Bachelor's degree from UMass to her name, a little unsure of what is supposed to happen next in this new chapter of our lives titled "Adulthood: The Early Years." Maybe she doesn't know where exactly she's supposed to go, but she tells me the one thing she does know for sure is that she is outgrowing the bedroom she still shares with her younger brother.

As we finish our iced teas and discussions of what post-college life holds for both of us, she leans in to ask me something in secret:

"The lady by the door, in the pink shirt, with the long black hair...is that or is that not my 7th grade Earth Science teacher?"
"Yeah...Yeah, that's definitely her. Wierd. How many years has it been since then? 6 at Latin, 4 in college...that's TEN YEARS. A full decade."

When we're back outside, she argues my calculation.

"7th grade was the 2000-2001 school year. We haven't quite hit 2010-2011  yet. It's really only been 9 years."

And with that, we continue on into adulthood and the real world, holding on tightly to that one-year difference as if it will let us stay in the blissful days of childhood just a little while longer.


my last goodbye: the front gate.

Dear Front Gate,

Today I drove by you, pulled off of campus and took a left onto Salisbury St. for the last time of my Assumption College career--no longer a student, but a brand-new alumna.

Here's our story as I know it:

One rainy late August day in 2006, a gray minivan packed to capacity with the items necessary for spending a year in a 3-person freshman dorm room drove up Salisbury St. and was waved onto campus because sitting behind parents and between siblings was a quiet 18-year-old girl who needed to begin writing words on the blank pages of the next chapter of her life. A few months before, she had sent in a $500 acceptance deposit to Assumption College--her mother's alma mater, one of only two schools she applied to in her home state, a place she never really gave much thought to during the chaos of college application processes but simply kept on her list of potential options in case she decided at the last minute that a big university in the middle of Philadelphia might not fit her as well as she'd believed it did.

Before she knew it, bags and boxes were flying everywhere while parents and kids ran around frantically trying to figure out what could stay, what needed to go home, what was left behind and would have to be overnighted to a P.O. box in the middle of the campus center as soon as possible.

And as her parents left her standing alone in the doorway of her new "home," she cried and cried and cried because she was scared that this wasn't going to end well, completely convinced that this stupid place in the middle of Worcester could never feel like home to her.

The thing about books, however, is that they don't work unless somebody has decided to write the progression of the plot. Without the next page, they pause awkwardly until the author decides to continue the protagonist's journey. Keeping this in mind, she began writing. She wrote about how she didn't fit in, how she should have stopped second-guessing her choice and stuck with Temple University from the start, how she was starting to find people she could spend time with outside of her room, how she was okay with not going home until Columbus Day, how much fun she had with her roommates that weekend, how amazingly great all of her new friends were, how much she would miss this place all summer until she could pull back onto campus for Round 2 the next August.

For the next four years, she continued to write the pages of this chapter right up until the very last period of the very last sentence. When she was finally finished, she took a minute to look it over. What she saw were tears countered by twice as much laughter. Failures overshadowed by both bigger and smaller successes. The greatest memories she could have ever asked to make, all because she was surrounded by the greatest people she could have ever asked to drive up Salisbury St. and pull through the gate she had driven past so many times--the people who held her hand when she was unsure of  where she was going, who talked her down from figurative ledges when she was ready to just give up, who stuck around when she felt like the rest of the world was walking away, who convinced her that this was where she needed to be.

That's when she realized that she was only able to grow because those people, her family in her new home, helped her do it.

There were many things in this life that she still didn't understand: why saying goodbye could not be easier, why her words always found a way to bypass the awkward filter when they left her mouth, why no language really has enough words to fully express every emotion she had felt that week, why she deserved to have the opportunity to spend these past four years surrounded by so many amazing people.  But as much as she wished she would be pulling onto campus, driving by the front gate and flashing her student ID again the next August, she understood that Assumption had already done all it could do for her by giving her the love of a family in the shelter of a home she could not have survived without.

As she drove by you today for the last time, she picked up her pen and began writing the next chapter.

For all you have meant to me, for all you have given me, and for all you will continue to mean to me, thank you.

Jennifer Ann Gallant, Biology; cum laude