To-Do: Senior Spring

by Jennifer Garfinkel | 3/7/08 5:10am

Lindsay Weinstein '08 cribbed the idea of a senior year to-do list from two of his Chi Gam brothers who graduated in 2006. Painted on their wall were all sorts of challenges, like "Take out a girl who is taller than six feet." They didn't have much luck, according to Weinstein. He hopes to fare better than his predecessors in accomplishing his items: start a food fight at Food Court, take a professor to 5 Olde Nugget Alley, go to Club Electra (To-Do what, he didn't say).

"There's a range from the academic, to the outdoorsy, to even the raunchy," Weinstein explained.

For Weinstein, who has finished his credits and isn't taking classes this spring, there should be ample time to check off the items on his list. Perhaps his main challenge will be to track down the starting quarterback of the Dartmouth Football team. He doesn't know who the QB is, and until he figures it out he won't be able to check off "Play a game of Madden against the starting quarterback."

Without the pressures of academia, Weinstein hopes to do some creative writing in his free time and thinks his approaching senior spring can be summed up simply: "John Ledyard meets Robert Frost."

Weinstein has some pretty unique goals for the next few months, but all around campus seniors are gearing up to check off items on their own To-Do lists as their last term on campus looms ever nearer.

Hype, Hype, Hooray!

As so many College students are wont To-Do, Cher Zhao '08 makes lists for everything. So at the end of her sophomore summer, she kicked herself for letting the entire term go by without making a To-Do list of everything she wanted to accomplish in and around Hanover. When her senior fall rolled around, she repented for her last mistake by writing down everything she wanted to see and do before graduation.

Realizing there isn't much time left -- after all, senior spring is the one time you can't tell yourself "next term" -- Zhao plans to take advantage of the outdoors by hiking Mount Washington and going to Franconia Notch. Her list also includes "a lot of eating" " The Farmer's Diner in Quechee, Tip Top Cafe in White River Junction and the Ben & Jerry's Factory in Vermont. Zhao, like many seniors, is feeling pressure to finally take advantage of Dartmouth's offerings because, in her words, "you wont be able to go to a jewelry studio and make your own jewelry in the real world, ya know?"

Although Esther Perman '07 spent her senior spring "very purposely making memories," also with the help of a To-Do list, she said that senior spring "wasn't a free for all." While she found the time to visit several stops on the Vermont Cheddar Trail, she also spent time "wrapping things up" both socially and academically. While Perman's senior spring wasn't wild and crazy -- similar to the way many of our senior springs will realistically be -- she treated her list as a priority.

"This is my last chance to make the impression of Dartmouth that I'm going to remember forever," she recalled thinking. "When I'm 80, I'm going to remember these things that are on my list."

For others, senior spring has indeed filled their wildest expectations. After spending more than three years of studying, Yale Fillingham '06 decided to kick back without classes during his senior spring, allowing him to "actually unwind and become a waste of life." But Fillingham's advice to seniors applies more so to those who are taking classes.

"You're going to remember a lot less those grades that you got that spring term than you are everything else you did outside the classroom that spring term," he said. "So if it comes down to choosing to study or go out with your friends to do something, do it. Don't look back."

Besides classes and theses, many seniors will spend their Spring terms stressing about plans for next year. The pressure to pin down a job increases with every irritable "so do you know what you're doing next year?"

Last spring, Danielle Stollo '07 wasn't taking classes and started looking for jobs in April. Feeling pressured to figure out her plans, she pounced on the first job she was offered.

"I panicked," she said. She would encourage this year's seniors to apply to many jobs and to take the time to find one that's right. "Don't settle."

Working for the Weekend

While many seniors are frolicking in the sunshine and hiking through the woods, others will be scrambling to finish their theses.

"I'm moving into Fairchild for the month of April to write my thesis and find a job," Kathleen Onufer '08 said. "I literally might move in."

"My senior To-Do list?" Claire Dunning '08 asked. "Finish my thesis. Totally lame."

For students like Onufer and Dunning, the excitement of graduation and warm weather are balanced out by the weight of the research and writing they have undertaken.

"There is this distinct realization that my levels of busyness and stress are not going to decrease until graduation," Onufer said. "It's a terrifying thought."

Although she would start her environmental studies thesis earlier if she could go back in time, Onufer is ultimately happy with her decision to write one because the one-on-one time with a professor is "invaluable." Not to mention that other assignments have become to seem much shorter and easier in comparison, she said.

Dunning also said that the stress and frustration are ultimately worth it.

"To become a little bit of an expert on a tiny niche of history is an exciting opportunity as an undergraduate," she said. "It's been a struggle and a lot of work, but I wouldn't trade the experience of writing my thesis for any other at Dartmouth."

Should I stay or should I go?

For other seniors, this spring won't mark the end of college. Bridget Alex '08 has changed her major "about five times" and started an earth science major during her junior winter after taking a class in the department to fulfill a distributive requirement. Now, she plans to graduate after next fall with some combination of majors and minors in anthropology, chemistry and earth science in order to pursue scientific archaeology.

"When I decided to do it last year, I was in no rush to graduate whatsoever and happy with the idea of delaying life decisions like graduate school and finding a job and such," she said. After this winter, though, she says she knows she is staying for academic reasons and not "to prolong the college dream."

"Four years is sufficient in Hanover," Alex said.

For others, four years in New Hampshire is quite literally not enough. Three years ago this spring, then-senior David Grey '05 checked his degree audit -- a little too late " and found out that he was missing two distributive requirements. So now, the California native is back at Dartmouth to finally receive his B.A. Although Grey admits that he wasn't really "on top of his stuff" the first time around, he's enjoying his second chance at college life.

"Having the perspective of having been away and worked for a while, I definitely appreciate things a lot more," he said, explaining that his classes and the professors who teach them have been really interesting. Not to mention, a break from the daily drone of nine-to-five workdays has been a welcomed change for Grey who is enjoying the flexibility that a college schedule allows.

Keeping an Open Mind

Even many seniors not taking classes plan to continue learning, though perhaps in a less structured way. In addition to auditing classes and studying for the GMAT or LSAT, Daniel Cohen '08 plans to edit and improve some of his research papers in hopes of getting them published in an academic journal. He also looks forward to reading for pleasure with his new found freedom -- "some of the seminal classics" are on the lineup.

Gary Freilich '08 also looks forward to reading because he'll finally have time to "follow the news, and keep up with current events and world affairs." In the spring, during which he's not taking classes, Freilich will be found sleeping 10 hours a-day and eating off campus, finally freed from a Dartmouth meal plan. Although he thinks he'll have no regrets about finishing his College career early, Freilich might have done things differently if he had the chance to do it all again.

"I definitely regret not having taking certain classes while I was at Dartmouth and not learning about certain things," he said, citing certain history topics and government classes as examples.

According to College Registrar Meredith Braz, the Office of Institutional Research does not publish a spring enrollment count, making it impossible to know exactly how many seniors have petitioned the Registrar to graduate early. Every senior contacted for this article, however, was able to list a handful of seniors who will not be taking classes come spring. Everyone had slightly different motivations for opting out of spring classes, but one factor remained constant: to save money. According to the Dartmouth web site, tuition and fees are estimated to be $35,178 for a year at the College (not including room and board), so graduating one term early saves a student $11,666.

In addition to the draw of saving money, Josh Green '08 wants to "live it up" before June arrives and he's hit with long hours in the workplace. To fill all the check boxes on his To-Do list, Green will go to Lou's after staying up all night, take a trip to Montreal and go to Moosilauke for dinner.

"I'm obviously not very 'DOC,' but I figure it's something I shouldn't miss out on," Green said.

Green figures it's the stress of college life that has caused college to fly by without time to do the "atypical."

"I don't know if it's anything unique to Dartmouth," he said. "You look at our time here and there are times I could have done these things, and sometimes I've done them, but senior year has been pretty busy and been pretty hectic," he said.

As for Weinstein, you may see his byline on this centerfold next term instead of mine. One of his To-Do items: "Write an article for every major campus paper."

Jennifer is a senior staff member of The Dartmouth.

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