Yesterday was a blur, and a route that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to the naked eye. Not that any of our routes make much sense.
A friend and coworker of Brandan’s who also sat on his advisory board for his dissertation lives in Oxford, and Brandan wanted to pass through on graduation day and take him and his wife out to lunch to say thank you for all of his help throughout this process. The lunch date wasn’t until 11 and we ended up in Oxford at 8:30am, so we had some time to kill. We checked out Bottletree Bakery and got some coffee, then once Square Books was open we headed over so I could check it out. Brandan’s been telling me about it for months now, so I wanted to see it for myself. Once I’d wandered around a bit, I made the very important decision that if I had to be stuck in one kind of store for the rest of my life, it would be a book store. I’d never get bored, I’d always have something to read, and the learning possibilities are endless. Not that I’d ever leave the store and get a chance to drop that newfound knowledge on the world, but that’s neither here nor there for this discussion. I’m just saying, bookstores are where it’s at for me.
The famous southern author William Faulkner was from Oxford, so naturally there’s a huge section of the store dedicated to his work; you can also go tour Rowan Oak, the house where he lived. I’ve never read any of Faulkner’s work, but I think I’d like to try. We swung by City Hall so I could have a little chat with William about what book would be the best to start with. He didn’t have much of an opinion, unfortunately. That being said, he didn’t mind me mimicking him either, so that was nice of him.
After lunch at Bouré, we got on the road to Starkville. MSU campus is confusing to a student who has only been there a couple of times, so we had a few navigational challenges. We managed to figure it out, pick up everything that needed picking up, hit the bookstore for some Christmas gifts, and get on the road to our Airbnb.
We rented a place in Crawford, MS which was as close as we could get to Starkville at the time we planned our route and about a 15 minute drive from campus. The place was beautiful – rolling hills, and our own 2nd floor, 1 bedroom apartment complete with a washer and dryer. Good thing, because Brandan’s sock situation was about to get dicey.
We were a quick in-and-out, just long enough to get changed and get a couple of photos with the great wooden MSU bulldog on the property.
And then we were off to graduation, to sit in a sea of young hopefuls on the brink of their next adventure, unknowing about the cruel, cold world of job hunting. If you zoom in close enough on the guys in the funny robes, allllll the way on the other side, you can see Brandan and Ned in their seats waiting to be called to the stage.
Being by myself and only needing one seat, I was able to get a pretty good one with a nice view of the stage to see Brandan crossing. I wedged myself in between a larger white gentleman who looked like he was probably someone’s father and a very tall and thin black gentleman who looked like he could have been graduating himself. After sitting for a few minutes, the tall thin black gentleman turned to me and said, “Hey, can I ask you somethin’?” He was with two friends to his left and they were there to see a brother of one of the friends graduate. They were cutting up and laughing while we waited, and I was bored to tears, so I of course responded with, “Absolutely.” I thought this might also give me the opportunity to meet more locals. So he says, “If a guy asks you out for a bologna sandwich, would you go?”
I have a number of problems with this statement, all of which I expressed to him. First and foremost, why are you telling me what I’m going to eat when we go out? Do you even know if I like bologna or not? And most importantly, what restaurant serves bologna sandwiches?
They were looking for me to solve a discussion between them, as one of the other boys had asked a girl out, then offered to make her a bologna sandwich. I clarified that making me a sandwich is not taking me out to dinner, so he might want to start with rephrasing the question. They then let me know that he told her he was going to cook for her, and then made her a bologna sandwich. When I raised my eyebrows at this, they all died laughing, except for the one who asked her out. He defensively said, “I was gonna plate it up all nice and stuff with some Lays.” I again clarified for him that a bologna sandwich and Lays does not constitute cooking for a girl. As he continued to try to defend his position, I decided to take the conversation a different direction and asked how the girl he asked out and made the bologna sandwich for felt about it. “They don’t talk no more.” Well, buddy, I think you have your answer right there, am I right? But really, gentlemen – if you want to impress a girl, a bologna sandwich and Lays is probably not the answer. And if it is the answer, it’s because you were transparent about it from the get-go, not offering to take her out, then cook, then handing her a highly processed meat-like product on a plate.
I distract myself a lot, but I really liked the Bologna Boys. Mostly because they thought I was 27 years old. Anyway, back to graduation. The PhDs are always first, before the rest of the graduates. Both Brandan and Ned thought that all these kids were going to get a single “blessing of the fleet” and be declared as graduates of MSU en masse. I’m not sure how you go through high school, college, and higher ed not knowing that each one of these student’s names was going to be called, but they didn’t. About a quarter of the way through the general student body, Brandan texted me, “The PhDs are revolting.” “Leaving?” “Yes.” “Are we?” “Discussing.”
A couple of minutes later, I got the text, “We’re out,” and when I looked up, sure enough, they were gone. I excused myself, climbed over the Bologna Boys and 2 moms on the end of the row, and we were done. Thank goodness, because I’m not sure I would have made it through all 1400 undergrads. We got a few photos, scooted over to a restaurant called Bin 162 to have a late dinner that was surprisingly delicious, and called it a night.
Have you ever seen 2 people so happy for a PhD program to be over? I argue that you have not. All in all, the evening was a success.
I could probably come up with anywhere between 78-642 life lessons for this one, but I will just leave you with this: Support the people who love you. Notice I didn’t say the people you love, but the people who love you. Hold them up, encourage them to keep going when they feel like they can’t, carry their weight without complaint when they lean on you, no matter how heavily. Encourage them to follow even the craziest of their dreams. Because one day down the road, I can tell you with the utmost certainty that you will need to lean on them. Maybe not tomorrow, and maybe not next week, next month, or next year. But there’s an ebb and flow to life and to love -sometimes you’re the one doing the lifting, and sometimes you’re the one being lifted. Carry them through. They will remember it, and so will you. And what is life without love? Arguably, nothing.