By Samanta A. Mendoza-Lagunas

The Endless Cycle of Nostalgia

On the first day of freshman year, I printed out and hung up an Andy Bernard quote from “The Office” that read: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”
By Scott P. Mahon

My mom’s favorite story to tell of me is when I was nine years old and on a college tour with my older brother at the University of Notre Dame. At the time, my brother had what we called “Peter Pan syndrome” — he simply did not want to grow up. When my brother was eight, he told my mom, “I like being eight. I think I could stay here for a while.”

I, on the other hand, could not wait to grow up. Along the tour, I was more energetic than my brother; I was mesmerized by the golden shimmer of the landmark dome and the reflections of the weeping cedar trees along the lake. I made sure to ask what the dining hall food was like and tried to peek into buildings as students exited them. In those moments, I could see myself as a college student, making my way through the campus as though I belonged there.

At the end of the tour, I told the guide, “I’ll see you in nine years!” My mom chuckled, and my brother sighed.

College had the allure of adulthood — of independence and maturity, of new faces and fresh experiences. And I wanted all that — but I hadn’t meant to skim through my childhood in the process.

It wasn’t until I reached the end of high school that I began to understand my brother’s reluctance to grow up. During my senior year, I started to realize I hadn’t appreciated the carefreeness and creativity that you can only have when you’re young.

With this mindset shift came a subtle yet undeniable feeling of nostalgia.

Slowly but surely, memories became more distant, regrets loomed larger, emotions intertwined with each other as I thought back on what I could only remember as happier days. In order to combat this during my senior year of high school, I began to adopt a new sentimentality toward things — toward everything.

The writer and his brother at Georgetown University.
The writer and his brother at Georgetown University. By Courtesy of Scott P. Mahon

This is the last time I’ll see those “school friends,” the ones I talk to in class but who will pretty quickly become just another name in the yearbook. This is the last time I’ll get a student discount at the train station. This is the last time I’ll get an extra hour of sleep during daylight savings, I wrote in a journal entry from 2018. Internally, I seemed to notice every “last.”

On graduation day, I told myself I should be excited. I even had a mirror pep talk that morning reminding myself to take it all in — and I did, to a certain extent — but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something. I didn’t cherish the memories enough. I didn’t spend enough time with my friends or family. I didn’t put myself out there enough or meet enough new people. I didn’t do enough.

I fell into this endless cycle — trying to soak up every moment and every memory to avoid nostalgia. But intentionally hyperfocusing on what I did led to regret. And that regret led to more nostalgia.


On the first day of freshman year, I printed out and hung up an Andy Bernard quote from “The Office” that read: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” I wanted to look at that quote and remind myself to appreciate these four years, this milestone I had been so longingly waiting for since the age of nine.

But pretty early on, especially at a school like Harvard, it became easy to fall back into the cycle of nostalgia.

I scrolled through Instagram staring at glamorous, probably edited, photos of friends who seemed to be thriving. I talked with a classmate who told me about how she had already found a mentor in one of her professors. I called a friend back home who sent me directly to voicemail and responded with a “Can I call you later?” text. He never called.

It didn’t feel like I was having the college experience I’d always imagined. Reading that quote before bed each night somehow just made me feel worse. I took it down within the first month.


Over time, things improved, and I began to fall in love with my college experience — but my fear of regret left me perpetually indecisive.

After freshman year, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to spend all 12 weeks of summer in San Francisco. Twelve might be too many, but what if I have to go home right when I start to have fun? I might miss out on memories at home if I’m in California for too long, but I also might not push myself out of my comfort zone if I don’t stay long enough.

The pandemic, obviously, made it worse.

Do I take a gap year? I would get another year of college to make memories, but I might not be doing it with my friends. I could take time away from the classroom, but I don’t have a job lined up.

A sense of nostalgia can sometimes be good, but recently, I’ve realized I’m stuck. Stuck in this cycle, switching between nostalgic and regretful.


When I came back to campus after being gone for more than 16 months, I couldn’t help but look back on my time at Harvard with rose-colored glasses. After a virtual junior year, I felt the need to pack as much as I could into senior year to avoid regret: every weekend needed to be filled with activities, outings, and memories. I told myself to never say “no.”

But as I’m preparing to graduate from Harvard, I’m finding myself just as nostalgic as I was when I was about to graduate from high school. Which means that I’m not nostalgic because I didn’t do enough in the past — I’m nostalgic because it’s easier to reminisce about the past than to worry about the future.

To combat this tendency, I now consciously try not to think about whether I should have gapped this year or the fun I could’ve had if I went to Crimson Jam sophomore year or what could happen in the future if I had only made a different decision.

I know whatever I occupy my time with is important to me at the moment, and although I’m still working on my indecisiveness, I know that the grass wasn’t any greener two years ago.

— Former Magazine Editor-at-Large Scott P. Mahon can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @scott_mahon.