Graduates, Interrupted: ’21s Look Forward to Continuing School Past Graduation

How ’21s who plan to finish their academic requirements past graduation this June are thinking about their extended time at Dartmouth.

by Mia Seymour | 5/27/21 2:20am

by Sophie Bailey / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Gap years, graduating late, switching around our D plans: My friends and I have all thrown around these ideas casually since COVID-19 altered the college experience. What once seemed like a neat and orderly four-year timeline has since become far more individual, ad-hoc and ever-changing. More interesting, though, is the way that this situation has impacted the senior class. In order to make the most of their remaining time and personal goals, some seniors have decided to take the leap of faith and graduate late. 

Rachel Gambee ’21, who is double majoring in Religion and Middle Eastern Studies, chose to take a full gap year and intends to graduate in spring 2022. 

“Initially, I didn't plan on taking a full gap year — I was going to take the fall [20F] off to work on graduate school applications and take classes in the winter and spring,” Gambee said. “This would also minimize my amount of online classes and the amount of money that my family was spending on them, which was a big decision factor for me.”

However, the timing of the vaccine rollout, persisting virtual school and the upward spiral of COVID-19 infections in Europe  — where she was looking at graduate programs — persuaded Gambee to take off the entire year. She’s spent her time working on her two senior theses and continuing separate remote research. Given this plan and the trajectory of the year, she is pleased with her decision to graduate late. 

“I think that I would have found online classes really unfulfilling. It’s not how I wanted to close out Dartmouth,” Gambee said. “So many of my friends, I think, are leaving Dartmouth very jaded about the experience, and I don't want that for myself. I’ve loved Dartmouth, I love my education here. I want to have a good final year.” 

Gambee will continue to live off campus in Hanover next year. Given her close ties with various organizations on campus and her ability to connect with other class years, she is not concerned about feeling isolated.  

“I am very fortunate that my communities, especially the religious communities I am involved in like the Aquinas House, the Eleazar Wheelock Society and the Christian Union, are not stratified by class year the way other campus organizations frequently are,” Gambee said. “Because of that I am not particularly concerned about returning to campus after a year away because I know those communities will still be open to me.” 

Jeanne Annpark ’21, another senior graduating late, echoed similar feelings about returning to a welcoming campus. 

“I’m pretty excited to be back in the fall since things will be open again. I’m looking forward to the sense of normalcy and in-person classes,” Annpark said. “Not having the ’21s around will be a change, but there’s actually a lot of people who will still be around. And I know a good number of ’22s and ’23s, [so] I don’t think it will be a complete change.”

When asked about whether or not she felt isolated from her current senior class, Annpark related past experiences to answer. 

“I took a gap year before attending Dartmouth and deferred my acceptance … with that experience I already felt FOMO from all my high school friends. Now I see that you live life at your own pace. I’m just doing my own thing,” she said.

Devon Kurtz ’20 has similar feelings as Gambee and Annpark. After junior year, Kurtz spent the summer 2020 term working for a startup think tank heading criminal justice policy in San Francisco. He negotiated to return for the latter portion of his senior year, expecting to return to Dartmouth either fall 2020 or winter 2021. 

Of course, COVID-19 threw a wrench in his plans and prompted Kurtz to continue working remotely, first in San Francisco and now in Woodstock, VT. He plans to take a “sabbatical” from work and pursue classes this summer; however, he doesn’t know when, let alone where, he will finish off his Dartmouth degree. 

“One of my major problems with Dartmouth, though they've been very flexible with letting me leave, is that I have to be a full time student to take classes, meaning I have to leave work again instead of taking one class at a time,” Kurtz said. “If I could, I would do the latter and still live in the area and be part of campus life.”

Despite his break from campus, Kurtz is excited to engage with Dartmouth once again and has no worries about his social life. 

“I absolutely have a community to come back to here, including students, administrators and even professors,” explained Kurtz. “In [19F], I became friends with a few ’23s, I’m in Tri-Kap. I also have friends in the Upper Valley outside of the Dartmouth bubble. So, I feel like I’m part of the Upper Valley in a way that I wasn't as a student.”

And regardless of the fact that his future is uncertain, Kurtz could not speak more highly of his decision to take time away from school. Kurtz said he values his education but views the four year timeline as arbitrary, and doesn’t see college as a means to an end.

“Best decision of my life, going to work for the startup. I’m coming back this summer with so much growth professionally, intellectually and relationship wise ... as an adult and with a whole new perspective on the College,” Kurtz said. “The last year and a half has been a wild adventure that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. It made me a better person.”