Tiny Moments: Grace Cunningham’s Senior Column

The first few weeks of freshman year feel like an eternal summer camp. 

New people keep asking for your Snapchat. There’s some singing, cheering, and a lot of sitting on the floor. Your counselors RAs are way too happy to see you. You wake up sweating in the August heat. When your parents leave, they give you a hug, a first aid kit, and enough batteries for every TV remote in Pollock Halls. Then, they cry because you’re “getting so old.” You cry, too. You’re also pee shy and probably constipated. 

But as the days go by and you adjust to your new surroundings, that summer-campish feeling begins to dwindle. August fades and takes the heat with it, your RA chills the hell out, and against all odds, you realize that pooping in communal bathrooms isn’t the end of the world.

In college, things will come and go: friends, stress, hangovers, exams, the line at Champs. Of course, when you’re living through it, a friendship breakup, a failed exam, a botched job interview, or a hangover from hell can feel like the only thing that matters. But after all, “nothing gold can stay,” so you might as well go get a beer at A’s with the friends you still have left. 

What I’ve learned in college is that nothing matters, which I guess is my own version of Robert Frost’s metaphor. Although morbid-sounding, it’s true. If you put too much emphasis on attaining the big things — a great job, the perfect relationship, a huge group of friends, a fancy apartment — you’re going to miss out on all the little things that make life so great.

When interviewing an alum for a story earlier this year, I asked about her favorite Penn State memories. “Foggy fall mornings,” she replied. This simple yet profound response left me teary-eyed. I knew exactly what she meant. Of course I’ll miss the big things — my friends, football games, parties, Onward State — but it’s the “foggy fall mornings” that mean so much to me.

The way the afternoon sun hits the back porch of my apartment; seeing Beaver Stadium from the North Atherton Chick-fil-A drive-thru; the noise my roommate’s speaker makes when she turns it on before we get ready for a night out; sitting on a campus bench in the sun; the first budding flowers of a State College spring; eating a Bonfatto’s panini outside and in good company; stopping to admire Old Main; the downtown buzz on a football Saturday morning; singing “Use Somebody” in a crowded bar. I’ll miss these moments the most.

I’ve also learned that there are always moments, good and bad, no matter where you are.

One way or another, I ended up at Penn State, but it wasn’t always that simple. I was rejected from a slew of schools and way too obsessed with finding the “perfect fit.” There was even a period of my freshman year when I wanted nothing more than to transfer away. Little did I know, it never mattered where I’d spend the next four years.

Whether I’d gone to school a plane ride away or didn’t leave home at all, my life would still be a collection of tiny moments. I’d still call my parents crying at times. I’d still lose friends and make new ones, too. There’d still be times when I mess up, make big mistakes, and feel like I’m not good enough. There’d still be times when I laugh so hard that my stomach hurts, feel the sun on my face on the first warm day of spring, and dance for so long that I wake up sore the next morning.

Of course, I’m endlessly grateful that I ended up at Penn State. I’ve met wonderful people and grown in ways that I never could’ve predicted. But my point is that there isn’t just one path for anyone. There isn’t even a path at all, just moments that lead to other moments.

As I prepare to graduate and move on to whatever comes next, I take solace in knowing that my life will still be full of moments — good ones and bad ones. Moments that don’t mean too much on their own, but all together add up to something.

Thanks to the people who make the tiny moments worth living, and thanks to this silly little blog for giving me so many of them.

If this were an episode of Podward State, my intro song would be “Here for the First Time” by Juniper, and my outro song would be “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I don’t think I’ve lived enough life to be giving unsolicited words of wisdom, but since I don’t know how to end a story without it, here’s a quote from “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which is my favorite book and perhaps subconsciously the reason I ended up at Penn State.

“Enjoy it. Because it’s happening.”

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About the Author

Grace Cunningham

Grace was Onward State’s social media manager once upon a time. She was also the host of Onward State's podcast. You should google "Podward State Wienermobile" for a good laugh. Nowadays, Grace is a copywriter or something. You can reach her at [email protected], although she doesn't know why you would want to.

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