As I was searching for a brilliant, awe-inspiring metaphor to represent the “it’s-overness” of our undergraduate years at the College on the Hill, two analogies instantly came to mind. The first was the breaking-up-is-hard-to-do letter (Dear Dartmouth, the past four years have been great. It’s not you, it’s me. There’s someone else named The Real World. P.S. Don’t blitz me anymore. I’m changing all of my passwords and switching to Gmail). There was also the obligatory party scene reference (the rage train, bus, bicycle or whatever vehicle you choose to carouse in has reached its last stop — hope you’ve enjoyed the ride).
But after a brief period of mental stewing, it occurred to me that these options would not accurately capture the hodegpodge of the past four years.
A case in point: The most accurate way for me to express my college memories would involve a post-modern photo essay of LOLcats, a particularly fierce Bravo TV celebrity and an ode to Sunja’s sushi. I am fairly certain that to the rest of you, such a portrayal would appear utterly pointless, if not horrifyingly bizarre.
Likewise, I’m sure that the personal, multidimensional way in which others choose to conceptualize their memories would not be instantly communicable to me.
The lack of universality of our time at Dartmouth does not mean our years together have left us devoid of common understanding and camaraderie. Rather, each of us graduates with our own deeply personal and thoroughly subjective Dartmouth — a place that we have come to realize must be left behind come June 8.
The “Dartmouth Experience” is often idealized to the point of extremes, and I have found that this purified representation has made “making sense” of college rather difficult. From our first footsteps on the Green, to the OMG-so-college descriptions of Sophomore Summer, to the various speeches given by College higher-ups at the illustrious dusk-of-our-four-years-apocalypse-harbinger Daniel Webster dinners (all of which left me panic-stricken and hyperventilating), we are blasted with an image of super-happy, super-enthused and generally super-super Dartmouth students who just cannot get enough of what the College has to offer.
My problem has been that these images of what college was supposed to be and the expectations I have formed in my head do not match my memories of what college actually was.
As the specter of graduation looms increasingly near, I feel compelled to face head-on this clash of concept and reality, and also somehow deal with what the future might hold, making the farewell tour that is Senior Spring all the more difficult.
It’s as though I have been left with a “so, this was college” sort of feeling without being able to decide whether I want to end the sentiment with a question mark, period or exclamation point. I suspect that I am not the only person who feels this way. (Please note: If you have indeed enjoyed a perfect four years here or in no way feel conflicted about graduating, I’m in search of a life coach, so please feel free to contact me.)
While there are certainly many things to love about our time in Hanover, an attempt to sanitize our memories into a squeaky-clean rendering that matches our ideal would not allow room for the subjective experiences of each individual, fully inclusive of disappointments and frustrations alongside triumphs and thrills. Life just doesn’t fit into a nice box containing a glamorized TV-promo with the Beverly Hills 90210 theme song playing in the background.
Trying to order our lives according to an unattainable standard of perfection robs what we truly have of its value. Far from being some streamlined, ordered meta-museum of ourselves, our true-to-life life is a lively, messy, crowded and at times even pungent bazaar of things, people, places, verbs and emotions. If it is impossible for our lives to be perfect or perfectly organized, then perhaps our second best bet is simply to cherish them for their uniqueness and their chaos.
No matter how we individually choose to contextualize, symbolize, problematize or memorialize our time as undergraduates, it is my belief that the last four years will somehow help to illuminate our subjective experiences of the future.
Whether Dartmouth turns out to be “the best four years of your life” or just four years of your life, Dartmouth was Dartmouth, and we went (t)here. Don’t let your ideals ruin your memories. Enjoy the bazaar, and good luck.