An ending, finite, a closure, where one thing was open. Now closed. Almost closed. A door swung wide, unhinged. A melancholy shuffling. Saying it isn’t so won’t make it any less true. Desiring for something to be an un-truth only makes the wound larger. You must treat the infection. Cauterize, amputate. If necessary.
We are all shuffling around, bruised and tender: scrambling, scrounging, fighting, fists in fury, tongues thick with unfulfilled dreams, throats crammed with birds beating wildly, wings pinned. Our university is closing: We are connected by the death of a shared dream. A cohesive and fluid destruction.
The Board of Trustees and the President of Marylhurst University announced the impending closure of the school three Thursdays before the end of spring term as the students and professors were gearing up for finals. In the announcement, they stated that the school would no longer be teaching any classes after summer term, that students who could finish their degrees in that time frame would be contacted, and that everyone else needed to begin looking into transferring to a different institution immediately. Some of us—me—wept. Others went into shock. Many became enraged, fed on false promises, betrayals of trust, stark indecency, immorality, and unethical, powerful people with deep pockets devouring their dreams, funds, and time. We all plummeted down toward the earth. Our beloved professors’ hearts were broken, our current students’ hopes and dreams were broken, the alumni’s always home was stolen. We careened toward change. We became change. We, Marylhurst lovers, the embodiment of a wave of change, thrust upon us, not unlike everyone before us and everyone ever after us, everyone who has existed ever. Resiliency is not a gift that should be taken for granted. Or if it’s not a gift, it is a choice, and that may give it more power.
I chose to live, again and again. When I had an ectopic rupture pregnancy at twenty that nearly took my life, that stopped my heart on the operating table, from which I woke under anesthesia and tried to rip the chords from my body, told the doctors where they could stick them, I made a choice, my subconscious made a choice. A lesson in resilience. In the subsequent years, when I was diagnosed with lupus, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, irritable bowel, severe gastrointestinal reflux disorder, a spinal birth defect that causes my hips to get stuck out of place, turning my young body into something old and altogether different from what I knew, I made a choice to fight. When the SIBO came for me last summer, devoured my ability to eat anything without getting sick, took away the process of deriving nutrition and minerals from food, I didn’t drop out of school. I have continued to live. I have continued to allow myself to be seen. We wake up everyday and we make a choice.
I grieved. I made arrangements. I commiserated. I let math assignments disappear into thin air. I tried to study modernist lit. I tried. I felt my stomach well up inside me, tighten and recoil. I felt the ache in my small intestine increase, again, a stab, stab, stabbing. I started my third round of treatment for my small intestinal bacterial overgrowth again. I grieved. I lost more weight, my body a waif of malnutrition. I spoke to my therapist. I cried. I made arrangements. I commiserated. I gave a presentation. Waves of exhaustion hit me at inconvenient times. My Hashimoto’s thyroid disease reared its unforgiving head. I cried. I hugged Perrin Kerns. I hugged Jay Ponteri. I hugged my dogs. I hugged Jack Eikrem. I messaged Celeste Perez incessantly. I grieved. I drank tea. Acid reflux shot up through my esophagus, burned into the back of my throat. I spit fire. I was fueled by Becky Lauer’s anger. I wrote an angry letter. I grieved. I signed up for summer classes. I purchased my cap and gown. I railed. I crawled into a hole and marathoned Netflix. Panic attacks came on nights where my illness coalesced with my sadness, danced inside my chest, heat spread to my arms, my temple, my ears. I found it hard to breath. I took Lorazepam to calm, to quiet, to get some sleep. I watched my peers fight for a year teach-out. I let the anger seep out of my bones. I invited family and friends for a summer barbecue after commencement. I asked my mom to bake a carrot cake. I grieved. I took a trip. I finalized arrangements. I ordered books for summer term. I applied for a graduate program. I watched the world go down in flames. I reflected on my life. I reflected on the way I am always six feet deep into battles with my own body, fighting autoimmune disorders on an endless loop. I understood the chaos and nature of change. I felt deep, intense surges of love. I felt my body, alive. I felt my body, heart-broken. I felt my blood pump; I felt it slow.
Dear Marylhurst Administration and Board of Trustees,
Graduation should be a joyous and momentous occasion, especially when you are a return student, an adult, and someone who never got a high school diploma. As I pick up my cap and robe from the Cup and Crow, I do not feel any of this. I was supposed to take the summer off and come back in the fall to finish my last and final term at Marylhurst with excitement, gratitude, and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Now, none of this is true; you have turned my hard work, my degree, into something that tastes vile. My degree has turned to ash in my mouth. You have promised that those of us with the ability to finish will do so over summer, but we must do so at a time when those we have grown to care about and deeply love in the Marylhurst community fight for the right to finish the degrees that were promised to them. You have already proven that you are unethical, that you are not above pulling the rug out from under us, so I can’t even be sure that this promise of finishing over summer will be fulfilled. By taking away my peers’ ability to finish their degrees, you have stolen from them what has been hard won. You directed your recruitments to returning adults; these are people who have lived through hardships, who have had to swim upstream to be where they are now. I am expected to walk at the end of spring term without a degree in hand, or a guarantee of a degree, while my beloved professors pack up their offices, while my peers walk around campus—a desecrated place—in tears or righteous anger, while our futures have been ripped from underneath us three weeks from spring finals. My class sizes have cut in half: students simply can’t do the work when their futures are so unsure, or they have stopped even trying, because what is the point when they will be forced to transfer to schools that will not even accept half of the Marylhurst credits they have spent hours away from their lives and their family and risked their mental and physical health to complete? You have been quoted saying that you felt you made the best decision for the faculty and students; we today call that gaslighting. You have taken away our beloved school, our professors, most of the students’ degrees, and now you want to pretend as if you didn’t do exactly all of this, as if this is all a delusion that we fictionalized to fit our own narrative. You forgot that this school has spent years training us in the arts of critical thinking, rhetoric, and social justice. I will sign this letter anonymously, because you have taken my voice. I am operating from both privilege—the promise of a finished degree—and from a place of sheer terror that you could chose to shut down at any time, despite your promises. There are hundreds of students who will not leave with a degree; you can’t simultaneously strip them of their degree and their voice. You can respond with the same generated emails. You can refuse another Q&A. You can abandon all pretense of ethics and morality. You can slowly make it harder for students to contact those in places of power as they battle to have their promises from the school met, but you cannot silence them. The voices are many, and they are strong because this school taught them how to be.
Equal parts heartbroken and disgusted,
A current student
The campus became a ghost town. Except the ghosts were alive. They were weeping. Jay opened up his last few classes to fellow professors, students, alumni. Creative writing: an altar, an outlet, a place to hang your grief on. Perrin said, “My first thought was of gratitude. I am so grateful to have taught here, to have taught all of you.” Jay’s eyes filled with tears, so did mine. Jay said, “Write about the places where you would go hide to find the edges of your body, to find out where your body ends.”
I met with my therapist five days after the closure announcement. “I feel like I am feeling everyone’s emotions all at once,” I said. ”The professors, the alumni, the lower-level administrators, the students who have to scramble to finish, the students who have to transfer, the students who were supposed to start at Marylhurst this coming fall. But, at the same time, I am trying to keep my head. I am making plans. I am scheduling appointments. I am figuring out what it is that I need to do.” Maria, my therapist, said, “Well, even if you are feeling everyone else’s emotions, that is still feeling something. Let’s check in with you, though. Place all the others aside. What do you feel?” I tried to speak. My voice cracked. Tears leaked from my eyes. “I feel broken-hearted. I love this school. I loved it.”
Thirteen days after the closure announcement I met with Maria again. “I feel like I jumped right into the sadness of grief, whereas others went into shock or anger,” I said. “I am so used to grieving. Living with chronic illness, having left an abusive man who I deeply loved, having been addicted to opiates and come through that on the other side, my life is a perpetual grieving process. My life is predicated on losing things, on letting go, on watching the things I love get stripped away from me, on walking away. For some students this might be one of the worst things that has ever happened to them. For me, for most of us, at various ages of adulthood, this isn’t the worst thing. It is not even close. It is not even in the top five. It isn’t about faith or hope. It is about an understanding. An agreement. We shook hands on it when we came into the world. Yes. I agree to suffer. Yes.”
I’ve already spent my life expecting things. I am filled with an unending desire. I can construct new dreams out of paper airplanes. Out of soot. I have been sick for over ten years now. I have been terribly sick the last year. I have been in war. I have curled in a ball, crawled on my knees, pulled myself up. My school is closing at the same time that I am clawing myself out of one of many prior and impending battles within my own skin. I feel fresh, new, alive. I have energy I haven’t met in over a year, desires I haven’t acknowledged. My body feels willowy, wondrous, mysterious in all the best ways. I feel like a beam of light. I feel guilty for this way of being in the world, compromised by my own and my peers’ grief, but I am acutely aware of the reconstruction, of the resurrection. It is hard to believe that change such as this could be a gift. To many it is not a gift. To them, to read these words might further hollow out the shards of their broken soul, at this moment. But what of the next moment? And of the next? We are doing what the modernists did, what those before them did, what those after them did. We are making ourselves new. I woke up today, a new being: different, something other than what I was before. I ask of this life only one thing, and one thing repeated: make me new.
4 comments have been posted.
Thank you all for your kind words. So many in the MU community are heartbroken from this loss, and I hope I was able to convey even a morsel of what this school has meant to so us and how dear a place in our hearts that Marylhurst will keep despite the devastating end.
Shilo Niziolek | September 2018 |
I hear you. I grieve and cry with you...still. There will always be a hole. Thank you for your gift of words.
Bridget | September 2018 |
I felt every word... I will always love Our Beloved Marylhurst University.
Pat Edwards | September 2018 | Vancouver, WA
Your words resonate with so many of us who have some sort of connection to Marylhurst. We share in your anger at the administration and grief in the finality of its endgame. Since 2015, Marylhurst has been violently ransacked and dismantled, leaving a trail of unjust cuts to longtime faculty, programs, and classes. It's an almost unbearable loss.
Jennifer Ortiz | September 2018 | Portland, OR