The Journey

Personal Essay
By Grady Locklear

I opened the door without knocking, lugged the pizza and soft drinks to the table, exchanged hugs with Emery and Michael, and got ready to spend a night hanging out with my friends. It was Christmas break in my hometown.

The food was familiar fare in my present company – $5 pizzas from Little Caesar's were a staple whenever we got together. Yet in the back of my mind was a question. It had occasionally crossed my mind in recent months, then came back and began to linger: What was I doing with these guys?

Successful people graduate from college and then pursue a professional career, I reminded myself. Michael, by contrast, had dropped his community college courses and was unemployed. Emery had been taking a few community college courses over the course of almost five years.

Then there was Keith, not part of my Michael-Emery-Grady circle, but a good friend from college. He too had dropped out of school and was unemployed.

So, what was I doing with these guys? What kind of career trajectories were they on? Would they ever have anything as extravagant as a private parking space, roomy office and the ability to issue executive orders to groveling peons? Unlikely. A successful person's friends were other successful people, right?

I let the thought go for the time being. With the pizza gone, Michael, Emery and I readied for battle. Emery hung back with a sniper rifle, I took up the heavy artillery and Michael snuck around to flank our enemies. The online world of the Halo video game was in trouble.

We played for a few hours, talking and cracking jokes the whole time. The smile never left my face. I realized that my memories associated with these friends were consistently positive. Friendship, I thought, is not about academic or economic success. More importantly, the academic or economic success of my friends, or the lack thereof, does not make them better or worse friends.

Emery and Michael are fun to be around, and their friendship makes my life better. Camaraderie, memorable experiences, hours of laughing, cheap but delicious food – friends need no professional accomplishments or university diplomas to provide these things.

In another setting, during school months I spend most of my time with Keith. He only recently dropped out of school, but he is still my roommate. When he was away, visiting his home, college life became much more difficult. I can evaluate just how important his friendship is because without him around, I find myself less inclined to get out of the house and do crazy things – an essential part of keeping sane under a heavy homework load, I've discovered.

Another valuable thing about Keith's friendship is his insight into character. Whether by some intuitive trait or because of something he's figured out, he understands peoples' characters. Before I grasped just how accurate his understanding was, I on one occasion went against his offered advice and pursued some friendships and relationships with people whose character Keith immediately disliked. It didn't work out well. Now I always take his advice: If Keith dislikes someone, there is a good reason for it, I have learned.

Each of these friends had a GPA over 3.5 in high school. Yet their lives have taken them to where they are now, on a different trajectory from mine. However, their friendship has remained as strong and as important as ever.

So, back to my question, which I was now realizing had a good answer. What was I doing with these guys? Having the best time of my life. Creating unforgettable memories that will make me smile and laugh when they cross my mind for years to come.

It became abundantly clear over Christmas break that these guys are my friends because I like them. When it comes to academic and economic success, it may not be as important to them at this stage in my friends' lives. However, my friends have stuck by me, and, whatever paths they take in life – whatever measure of success they are held against – they have been successful as my friends.