Levine: Appreciating the Day-to-Day

by Justin Levine | 6/10/16 7:25pm

Over the past few weeks, many of my friends have asked me how it feels to be so close to graduating, and what I’ve learned from my time at Dartmouth. I’ve yet to provide a satisfactory answer to the question, even though it’s a question I’ve spent plenty of time considering. I had barely formed a rough conception of what my Dartmouth experience has meant to me in my head, let alone found a way to formalize my experience into words that could serve as a proper conclusion to my time here. So to everyone who’s asked me this question, what follows is my best attempt to date at reflecting on my Dartmouth experience.

First off, I’ve noticed that only underclassmen have been eager to talk about the idea of graduating. I was the same way the past three years. Protected by the assurance that I had at least one more year here, it felt safe to discuss such a frightening topic. In particular, I spent a lot of time last spring trying to better understand the psyches of the graduating ’15s in an attempt to figure out how I should feel when my time came.

But now I’m a senior, and it’s notable how few conversations I’ve had with other ’16s in which we truly reflect on how we feel about graduating. The nearing reality is often addressed indirectly through congratulations of friends getting jobs, attending thesis presentations and the shared frustration of having our DA$H and DBA accounts closed.With my '16 friends, I rarely seem to have the kind of reflective graduation conversations I've had with underclassmen.It’s possible that at the time of this writing, still two weeks away from graduation, we’ve all subconsciously chosen to delay these bittersweet conversations, and that by the time you are reading this I will have been proven to be flat-out wrong. I also think that many avoid the topic because they think it will make others sad, and they’d rather devote their remaining time here to more upbeat conversations. But my impression is that many other ’16s feel like I do and refrain from discussing graduation directly because we don’t want to face the ensuing questions –– either from our friends or from ourselves –– of what fundamental lessons we will be taking away. It was only through writing this column that I’ve forced myself to address the question head-on, and what I’ve settled upon is an answer that my past self would have found frustratingly insufficient.

I don’t have a single, all-encompassing takeaway of what my time at Dartmouth has meant to me, nor any insightful lessons that can easily be passed down to future students of Dartmouth or current undergraduates. These four years here have been too complex to be summed up neatly, and that’s what makes it so special. Therefore, rather than try to wrap my four years into a neat box, I reflect upon my time at Dartmouth through a stream of many stories, shaped deeply by all the people I have met along the way and organized loosely around several defining moments.

My freshman year I kept a bulleted list in the notes section of my phone of enjoyable moments that I wanted to remember. Through the course of several phone and iOS upgrades, I seem to have lost the list, but I still remember most of the events I once put down. I remember writing down stories about learning how to ski at the ski way, spending nights with new friends in frat basements and learning new concepts from classes that really interested me. But more importantly, I remember the excitement I felt freshman year from the newness of everything and simply being happy to have stories that I felt were worthy of writing down. While I stopped the practice of writing down stories on my phone, and many of the stereotypical freshman activities I often wrote about no longer bring me the same fresh excitement, I’ve recently resumed my effort to think about events from the day that would’ve been worthy of making it onto that list. So now when I reflect on my time at Dartmouth, I think of the extensive record of experiences I have accumulated –– accounts of accomplishments, setbacks, discoveries and everything in between –– that combine to tell the story of my personal growth.

As I’ve gotten to the end of my Dartmouth career, I haven’t suddenly been struck by the momentous insights that I used to anticipate would occur. Instead, I’ve acquired a better appreciation for all the small day-to-day events that have slowly turned me into who I am today. When I think of my time at Dartmouth, it’s usually accompanied by feelings of, “Wow, I’m going to miss this.” And that’s good enough for me.

Justin Levine ’16 is the former publisher of The Dartmouth.