My time at Emory University has left me with an archive of skills that I see myself drawing upon in the future. Laying on the Quadrangle each day, every year, during the months of March and April, has made me an expert people-watcher. I wear my shades and overhear interesting conversations that carry through the wind with this skill. I’m now also a seasoned hiker, an identity constructed from traversing the uphill path from the Sanford S. Atwood Chemistry Center to Kaldi’s at the Depot or climbing four flights of stairs to get to my Evans Hall dormitory. However, the skill I am most excited to add to my repertoire is storytelling: an art that my four years at Emory have helped me perfect.

Storytelling requires setting a scene. A bustling and lively campus is one option — an encounter that’s all too common for most Emory students. Even now, I sit perched atop the Emory Student Center, watching the farmer’s market in action and students making a run for the crepes. Not even three years ago, the scene was set to desolation. Sitting in the exact same seat, I observed two masked souls enter the Woodruff Physical Education Center for their weekly COVID-19 test, with not another person in sight. Our class’ story is unique in that way — the ebbs and flows of the scenes around us were not static. A true American college experience was never a possibility but one that we strived toward even amid the pandemic-induced isolation.

Courtesy of Parker Smith

That’s where characters matter. The people I met throughout these years filled in the lines of my story. Sometimes paragraphs, sometimes chapters and sometimes joining me on the title of the book. These lifelong bonds wouldn’t have formed without stories themselves as a vehicle for friendship. I am constantly reminded of how powerful stories are, remembering how the Emory Barkley Forum for Debate, Deliberation, and Dialogue comes together and tells debate stories until we die of laughter, four friends sitting at Chai Pani updating each other on the latest lore and summer hour-long facetimes that left me smiling. These stories are especially meaningful when they come together. The new story that these characters and their experiences forged is the person I am today. I laugh like there’s no tomorrow because a great story can’t be one without humor. I’m fierce with my loyalty and trust, because the goodness in characters is what us readers are rooting for. Most importantly, I’ve learned to let go of the stories that don’t sit well with me, instead filling my tote bag with novels of those I love.

Each story always has a lesson, snuck in where you least expect it. My first year, it was the fragility of first week friendships. The reality of impermanence set in as movie-watching best friends became acquaintances you catch up with once in a while, and, eventually, friendly faces you wave to on a walk. Second year awakened the adventurer in me as friends and I navigated a new country with rudimentary Italian only sufficient for a curated Instagram feed. The tale of my third year ended in triumphant resiliency as I waded my way through the Medical College Admissions Test while also never missing an opportunity to make a trip to Happy Karaoke. Then, my fourth year, this year, reminded me to celebrate, even without a special occasion. Drive, determination, success, friendship and happiness were more than enough to warrant an outing for Aperol spritzes or a shopping spree at J. Crew Factory.

These moments are crystallized in my head with dialogue, expressions, aromas and scenery. When I turn out of Clifton Road for the last time, I will wrap myself in the invisible blanket of comfort formed by these memories. My hope for the Class of 2024 and future classes is to take note of and ingrain the details deep in our neural networks. Maybe when we walk into a bakery five years from now, the fresh focaccia will remind us of the odd rosemary bush outside the Dobbs Common Table. Ten years into the future, perhaps while we’re waiting for the elevator to get to our job office, the impatience will bring us back to the slow-paced elevator in the Oxford Road Building that we screamed at as we ran late for class. We don’t know when these will be evoked, but when they resurface, we’ll smile to ourselves and enjoy the feeling of nostalgia and happiness as our brain runs the tapes. 

Until then, I’ll sharpen my quill and dip it in ink, ready to begin the next chapter of my story.

Shreyas Rajagopal (24C) is from Coppell, Texas, and majored in chemistry and religion. While at Emory University, he was a nationally-ranked debater, researcher at the Emory Global Diabetes Research Center and fellow for the Emory Scholars Program. After college, he will pursue a master’s degree in global social and political thought from the University of St Andrews as a Bobby Jones Scholar and attend medical school at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (N.Y.).

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