by Samantha Capps
On my last day of college, I happened to throw my final unfinished cafeteria meal into the compost at the same time as one of the college’s deans. He made an eye contact, and he moved as if to walk away, but then he turned around and spoke to me.
“This is the end for you, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Yep, it is,” I replied. I was shocked that he remembered. He and I did not have the best rapport. I’d raised a minor hullabaloo over one of his executive decisions the previous year. I had made my point and gotten his decision reversed, only to embarrass myself a month later after jumping to conclusions and accusing him of reneging on his word. I had been wrong. He maintained a level of respect whenever we talked since then, but I also thought I could hear a subtle resentment in his voice.
“Well, we’ve had our ups and downs here, but it was all a learning experience. Just remember that. It’s all a learning experience,” he said, and then he hugged me, which I hadn’t been expecting at all.
“Best of luck,” he said with a wave before departing from the cafeteria.
The residual shame and distaste I felt for this dean melted away, then. I resolved to take his words as my post-college motto. “It’s all a learning experience… it’s all a learning experience.”
Two months later, I heard that his son died. He was in his twenties and engaged. He had been healthy and active. It was sudden and stupid and pointless. But more than pity or sadness, I felt his father’s words and wondered if he still thought them to be true: “It’s all a learning experience… it’s all a learning experience… it’s all a learning experience.”