Timberlake: Ode to graduates

Columnist Ian Timberlake presents an optimistic, metaphorical story to encourage students to embrace opportunities and challenges as they enter the real world upon their graduation.

Courtesy photo

Columnist Ian Timberlake presents an optimistic, metaphorical story to encourage students to embrace opportunities and challenges as they enter the real world upon their graduation.

Ian Timberlake

Just past seven in the evening, the sun is making its departure and its warm rays blanket your body as your fingertips tickle the tall grass. Monstrous white clouds pock the bluebird sky, casting intermittent shadows across rolling fields of flora swelling in the breeze.

You inhale just as a breeze blows by, taking in a thousand flowers and the scent of a spring morning rain. Dense woods in the distance percolate the soft soil you trod so lightly, barefoot, feeling the dirt, pebble, and grass groom your feet.

A lone cherry tree, atop a cresting hill of grass gives way to some vivid pink blossom with every firm breeze. You slowly, joyously, stroll through the grass and up the hill, making your way toward the cherry tree, not quite sure where you are or where you’re going. The hill stretches on upwards, seemingly growing, making you realize you misperceived the majesty and illusion of this hill; with every step, the cherry tree looms larger, broader.

On top and out of breath, you bask in the shade of this cherry tree, completely absorbed in its greatness. The wind now tests your foot and drowns out the song of birds from below. You place your hand up to the tree and look up, admiring its wonder, slowly strolling around its base grazing every aged crack juxtaposed with its smooth bark, stepping over the roots sinking deep into the Earth.

“Where am I?”

Stricken with a smell, your attention is stripped from the cherry tree as if pulled from a dream. A smell so distinct you can taste it under your tongue. It tastes rocky and bitter, like a dry sweat after an afternoon of yard work.

“What is that?”

You dismiss it and lean your back up against the cherry tree, sliding gracefully down to a seated position to, only momentarily thereafter, have a cherry blossom fall to your lap.

You stare at it awhile, as if it was looking at you… looking at you with the same wonder you look at it. No judgment. No prejudice. No ridicule. And no expectations. Just inquisition. Just curiosity.

Eventually you pick up the cherry blossom, feeling its silky smooth pedals, its flutes with globules of pollen at the end, its delicacy more than a vase. Bringing the blossom up to your nose, you smell it, but it doesn’t matter because you’re already sitting under the greatest cherry tree of your life. What were you thinking you’d smell?

You remember hearing once that cherry blossoms were edible. Looking at the beautiful flower resting in the palm of your hand, you grimace. But…

What the hell; you eat it. A light, and comfortable taste washes across your palate. Nothing too strong or specific, too crunchy or too soft. Smiling, a happy taste, if that means anything. You laugh.

A gust of wind blows through, you can feel your hair disarranging, but you don’t care… You get a quick shiver down your spine. You taste the bitter in the air again, almost thwarting the happiness of your recent cherry blossom. More inquisitive now, you look over your shoulder and around the tree trunk.

Now, with more attention paid and curiosity gathered you notice a slightly larger hill a good stroll away. This hill was just tall enough to block your view of what lay beyond, it was connected to the hill you sat on by a smooth, grassy loft.


Standing up, you look around, doing your best to admire where you are and, somehow, take in your surroundings, and begin your stroll across the loft. Slightly down and slightly up to the top of this bigger hill, still barefoot, still taking in deep breaths of flowers, still closing your eyes and admiring the sounds of the rushing wind over the faint bird chirps. The bitterness gets stronger, the wind grows to be confused with a rushing ocean.

You crest up and over this broad, grassy hill with the cherry blossom far to your back.

Awestruck, you say under your breath, “My… That’s a big ocean”.

You look down the now-sandy hill at the long, white beach, and see a washed up rowboat, made of wood. It was of chipped white paint and faded red trimmings. In no time, you sink your feet into the warm sandy dune, toward the rowboat, saying nothing less than a smile.

Farewell, graduates.

Ian Timberlake is a senior in aerospace engineering from Chicago.