At school the next day, Radar tells Quentin that he has built a new program for Omnictionary, which allows users to search a broad category, such as a geographic location, and then view the first sentences of up to one hundred Omnictionary articles related to the category. Ben arrives, saying that he and Lacey spent the night plotting different possible routes Margo could have taken between the five points on her map. He tells them that every version of the trip lasts almost exactly twenty-three days —the amount of time between the day Margo disappeared and graduation. Ben is now convinced that Radar’s theory is right: Margo will be in the audience at graduation. Quentin is skeptical of the idea. He knows enough about Margo to trust that she has not been playing a prank all this time.
This moment represents a convergence of information. Radar’s program makes it possible to parse an enormous database of information in a short period of time, and the map-making program Ben and Lacey use to plot routes for Margo inundates them with information about the huge number of places she could be or road she could be traveling. Everyone is trying to harness the information available to them to solve their problems, but more knowledge only serves to emphasize how much remains to be known. Reality—and Margo—has become increasingly hard to grasp.
Reading “Song of Myself” that night, Quentin pauses over one line: “I do not ask the wounded person how he feels … I myself become the wounded person.” He sees that all his efforts to connect with Margo, he has never been able to become her — to experience the world as she experienced it, exactly.
Whitman champions radical empathy and connection between people, but Quentin’s ongoing struggle to access Margo raises questions as to whether such enormous empathy is even possible — whether one can ever fully understand another person.
Quentin struggles through the rest of his final exams, and arrives at his last-ever day of school. He is filled with surprising nostalgia as he thinks about how many things he will never do again: loiter outside the band room, eat pizza in the cafeteria. He thinks that Margo must have felt some sadness leaving, just as he does, because she made a life for herself at Winter Park High School just as he did. It occurs to him that these memories are authentic and meaningful, though the school itself has often felt artificial and dissatisfying.
Quentin has begun to realize that places and people are never intrinsically “paper,” as Margo’s blanket dismissal of her town and her peers might have suggested. Rather, it is the task of each individual person to create an authentic experience for themselves, reaching out to others to form connections and memories that give meaning to life.
After school, Quentin decides to clean out his locker while Radar and Ben attend band practice to rehearse the graduation concert. He soon grows overwhelmed by the thought of everything he will never do again, and throws away everything in his locker without looking at it, except one photograph of himself, Radar, and Ben. He walks out of the building, leaving his now-empty locker open behind him.
Quentin has been cavalier about finishing high school, but it seems here that he does not actually feel prepared to leave. He allows himself one souvenir — the photograph — but throws out everything else because he does not know how to cope with the sadness and nostalgia it creates.
Walking home, Quentin discovers that though the process of leaving is difficult, the actual act of leaving feels wonderful. He realizes that Margo is never going to come back to Orlando, that she wouldn’t want to, because leaving feels so good. He is unsure of what to do with his own exhilaration, whether he must keep leaving place and place for the rest of his life in order to recreate this feeling.
It occurs to Quentin earlier while reading Whitman that he has never really become Margo, but here, he empathizes with her so perfectly that he does seem to become her. Quentin finally understands some part of Margo on a visceral, rather than an intellectual, level. And yet it is ironic that the fundamental and almost universal human experience of leaving home, and by extension leaving each other, brings them closer than ever.