Senior Milestones

by Claire Callahan | 1/16/19 2:10am

My shelves at home are filled with journals, some dating back to elementary school. I no longer write about love triangles exposed on the playground, but the need to record my life has stayed with me. I feel like if I don’t write down the things that seem like milestones to me, I’ll lose part of myself to the past.

As we celebrate Dartmouth’s 250th anniversary, I find myself pondering what a milestone really means. Is it something that produces a change or is it a marker of remaining traditions? Why do we feel compelled to record them? In my journals I write about everyday occurrences that aren’t milestones in my eyes, but matter just as much to me. How do we separate little things that build up our lives from big things that mark them?

Aly Young ’19 transferred to Dartmouth from the University of Connecticut after an uncomfortable freshman year. She believes milestones are the events that have defined you in some way, those that are important enough for you to remember.

“I knew not to expect that things would be perfect, but I’m social, very extroverted, and I love being around people,” Young said. “The people at [University of Connecticut] were kids from the Northeast who went to similar high schools … they had just figured it out.”

Young’s first-year trip was a milestone for her.

“We all clicked so well,” she said. “It was this funny, cute little dynamic.”

But she started feeling lonely again when she got back to campus, since transfer students don’t get the orientation schedule. Her trip leader introduced her to the Ledyard Canoe Club, which soon became her life.

“I don’t think I would have been able to find my roots again without trips,” Young said. “I know some people really struggle on their trip, but I totally think that was a milestone for my Dartmouth experience.”

Similarly, Erica Ng ’19 saw her completion of her first term at Dartmouth as a milestone.

“I remember when I came as a freshman I constantly felt like I couldn’t take a breath,” Ng said. “I had a really positive experience, but I remember constantly being so stressed and worried about completely falling apart. I would always tell myself, ‘It is a privilege to do poorly at Dartmouth.’”

Michael Sun ’19 recognizes the wide variety of milestones that exist in its nebulous definition.

“I think that some milestones are groundbreaking, like milestones in research or to be the first to do something,” Sun said. “But they can also be completely arbitrary.”

For Sun, societal milestones like turning 16 or 21 don’t hold a lot of meaning.

“A lot of times when I experience those [expected] milestones, like ending the academic year, it doesn’t feel as spectacular as people said,” he said. “Rushing was supposed to be this big occasion but it sort of felt less fulfilling than I thought.”

On the other hand, the milestones that come as a surprise stay with him emotionally. His junior spring, he coached the last club swim meet in which the Class of 2018 would compete, and the moment resonates with him to this day.

“I just wept. I was so happy; I was so sad,” Sun said. “Being able to coach them, to support them, to be their friend and watch them accomplish something at the end … to me, that milestone means more than other traditional milestones that have been pressed upon me.”

Another one of the milestones Sun considers to be more arbitrary is Dartmouth’s 250th anniversary. More than just being arbitrary, Sun feels uncomfortable celebrating it in light of the current sexual harassment lawsuit against the college.

“I find celebrating this milestone incredibly irresponsible and hypocritical of the reality of Dartmouth, which is 250 years of harm to marginalized groups and 200 years of women not being allowed into the school,” Sun said. “It’s sad that I can’t celebrate because I would love to celebrate this milestone, but to me, the Dartmouth 250 is something that I mourn.”

Sun’s feelings about the anniversary cause him to reflect on his Dartmouth experience and the college’s history as a whole. I turn to journals for this reflection on certain events, as does Ng. She associates achievements with milestones more than anything else, and her form of writing demonstrates that.

“At the beginning of the term I will often write a running list of goals for myself,” Ng said. “One of my goals for this term is to go to the jewelry store and make something for my friends and family.”

After the term, she writes about how her time at Dartmouth went, sandwiching the term with planning and reflection. She started doing this because of Engineering 12, “Design Thinking.”

“They really stress journaling [in Design Thinking],” Ng said. “I got in the habit of making lists, like things I saw that were beautiful or things that irked me.”

Ng also noted how looking at your old writing can bring you back to the strength of your emotions.

“The great part about journaling is that you can look back on it and read in your own words how upset you were at a time or how excited you were,” Ng said. “It transports you.”

For Sun, unpleasant moments in the present contrast with past expectations.

“[The Dartmouth 250] is an injustice and a huge disappointment to my former self, who was so excited to be here,” he said.

None of these seniors will be here for much longer — graduation is only five months away. Again, this expected milestone in itself doesn’t mean a lot to Sun.

“I am excited to graduate, not because I’m achieving a milestone, but because of the next thing that lies beyond it,” he explained. “I don’t hold a whole lot of weight in graduation itself.”

Ng’s excitement is tinged with nostalgia.

“I really love so many aspects of this place and so many people, so it’ll be hard to say goodbye,” Ng said. “I don’t feel like a jaded senior; I feel like a really happy senior.”

As her four-year Dartmouth career comes to a close, she is more conscious than ever of what she’s done and what she hasn’t done.

“I find myself thinking sometimes, ‘This is the last time I will …’ or even, ‘This is the first time I’m doing this, why wasn’t I doing it sooner?’” Ng said. “There’s still so much of Dartmouth that I’m trying to take with me and pack up.”

That seems to be the thing about milestones: somehow, in some way, they change you. And that means you’re leaving something behind. For Dartmouth, I hope the college leaves misogyny and bigotry in its past; for our seniors, I hope their memories and friends stay with them in their hearts … and maybe their journals.