On Leaving

For my graduating class

Leave the bricks.

Photo by Norm Shafer.

Photo by Norm Shafer.

Although you wish that you could walk them
in other places, other paths, that finding
your way from cap and gown to nine-to-five
was well-worn and obvious as the route
up to the dining hall, it is not. And
it is not meant to be. Besides,
some freshman will soon need them.

So leave them.

Leave each tree,
but carry in your eye their stunning gold,
four years of fall distilled and hung
in one glowing corner of your memory.
You might take one leaf to help
recall the way the russet walk was mirrored
in their canopies, but even such a small
echo can grow heavy after passing years.

So leave the trees.

Leave the covers of the books, but keep
the shape of each inked word. Collect
voices that shaped you, made you
breathless with anger, breathless with love;
those things you keep. Pack carefully
away the look that one professor gave you
when you were finally able to believe
each good thing they’d told you all along:
that this place is your place, that you
have moved through it and yourself moved,
and now, stepping toward a different
life, the things you’ve kept may someday
be returned.

When President Richard V. Hurley heard Haley Campbell ’13 read “On Leaving” at the Donor Appreciation Luncheon this spring, he liked it so well that he asked her to read it at commencement. Campbell was the recipient of the 2013 UMW Barbara Thomas Phillips Creative Writing Scholarship. Her degree is in English with a concentration in creative writing.