For the past few years, I’ve had a small metal charm on my key ring, which a friend from the tiny college theater program I was in gave to our class as a graduation present.
The little metal thing has four sides, each stamped with some kind of identifying information. Two sides name the department and concentration of the theatre program at the University of Michigan. Another side simply has “Ann Arbor, MI,” where the whole thing went down.
My favorite is the side that reads, “42.28°N, 83.74°W,” the coordinates of the building where most of my classes were held. I like the numerical specificity of a place that was so important to me. I also like how it’s a token of completion — more so than the diploma that I’m not sure I ever actually had sent to my parents’ house.
But if I’m wary of letting nostalgia for my college years become the standard against which I judge new experiences — and boy, am I — then the little metal thing isn’t just a reward for having completed something. It’s also a reminder that that phase of my life is over. These days it almost seems more like a literal charm, warding off that wistful reverie you can unconsciously slip into when you see a college sweatshirt or heat up a bucket of ramen noodles.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this was all just a few years ago, so I may not have enough critical distance to be a reliable narrator. But I still think your mid-20s are not really the time to let yourself stew or reminisce over the experience you just had. It’s a time to take a shot at moving on. See what it feels like. See if it suits you. When I start to indulge in Golden Age thinking for my college years, the little metal thing does a nice job of snapping me out of it. When I go a stretch without thinking about the little metal thing at all, it’s probably doing its job even better.
Key Ring Chronicles is a crowd-sourced project that explores the stories behind objects that people keep on their key rings. It was created and is overseen by Paul Lukas, who has kept a quarter with a hole drilled through it on his own key ring since 1987. Readers are encouraged to participate by sending photos and descriptions here.