I fear the candid camera

One of the worst parts of young adulthood is that our grandparents start dying.

My dad’s mother died Saturday night. Don’t feel too bad for me; she was 91 and suffered from Alzheimer’s for the last 10 years.

One of the most difficult aspects of adjusting to the news is trying to remember who my grandmother was. It got me thinking, “Do we really know who anybody is?” All we know about the people around us are snapshots-visuals, phrases and gestures.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby that personalities are just a string of successful gestures. I wonder-what snapshots do we U students give others to piece together a memory of us?

The protagonist in The Great Gatsby describes his cousin’s husband as a man who was an extremely popular college football star and was still living off those memories 10 years later.

Despite our best efforts, many people we know now may be forming opinions of us that will last for decades. What snapshots are we leaving for them?

I remember two things about my grandmother: her domesticity and her scholarship. She put just the right amount of cheese on broccoli; she liked silver tinsel and balls on her Christmas tree and she hummed Methodist hymns while she washed dishes.

She also had an enormous bookshelf full of facts she remembered into her 80s, had watercolor and oil paintings on her walls learned how to play Scrabble in her 60s, winning every game we ever played.

I have to piece together an image of the woman based on these snapshots from my childhood.

What image are our classmates, fraternity/sorority friends, professors, employers, roommates and friends piecing together of us?

I, and probably a lot of people, think of day-to-day activities as a means to an end: graduation, an award or a career. But the way we conduct the mundane is the material from which our images will be constructed.

People notice and remember how we act when we’re having a bad day, or how we act when we know someone else is having one. People remember how seriously we take our classes or how frivolously we blow the weekend.

I think it was Jerry Seinfeld who said, “People who treat servers meanly are not nice people, no matter how they seem.”

Even though I’m only 25, I will be remembered for how I act day to day by my coworkers at The Chronicle and the many individuals I have met through my classes. If I want to be remembered as smart, I had better work hard to be able to do smart things. If I want to be remembered as helpful, I had better help more people. If I want to be remembered as cheerful, I had better smile more.

I can’t control what people think about me, but I can control the snapshots from which they will form their opinions.