TTLG: To Be Thankful and Move On
Eowyn Pak ’21 feels content with her four years at Dartmouth, despite the turbulence of the pandemic interrupting a normal college experience.
I wake up to pitch darkness with a slight headache. My fingers gingerly feel around the bedside table until they land on that oh-so-familiar silicone phone case. 12 p.m. Looks like I’ve missed my Zoom class, but I’ll be able to watch the recording later, so who cares? I scroll through Instagram, nap a little, eat a little, say hi to a friend or two — and then the day is gone. And somehow I’m surprised every time the sunlight slips through my hands.
Life has been blurring by as it usually does when my day-to-day lacks commitments. One would think that after over a year into the pandemic, I would’ve gotten the hang of it. But after all this adapting, after loosening restrictions, even after Foco meals and one-on-ones with friends I haven’t seen in over a year, my brain keeps playing elevator music, the muffled kind that echoes the same generic tunes over and over again. Anything else that vies for my attention is quickly drowned out by my pandemic fatigue.
Of course, the pandemic has hit harder for some more than others, and I am lucky and privileged to be one of the few who has not had to face a real threat. And yet, “return to normalcy” is something we all get excited by. There were so many things I wanted to accomplish for my last year here. I wanted to write at least one more opinion column — and finally be brave enough to write a controversial piece that would far outshine my other pieces and send the campus up in arms with all kinds of opinions. I flirted with the idea of a thesis that I could be proud of, a tangible piece of work I could point to as the culminating result of all of my efforts and something I could explicitly call my own. I wanted to chat with a professor during office hours like I used to and get to know the names of their kids and what they liked to do on a nice Saturday. A part of me even missed belting out “Mr. Brightside” — as repetitive and predictable as it is — in a cramped, sweaty basement full of faceless strangers.
But as much as I thought I “wanted” to do these things, the idea would vanish as soon as it came. The task was left undone — whether for lack of a pandemic equivalent, or for lack of energy, or both — and what remained was pandemic fatigue and a detachment from a Dartmouth that felt completely alien to me. What happened to the girl who was so excited to choose classes that she would create an elaborate spreadsheet complete with Layup List reviews, DartHub course assessments, GroupMe testaments and the pros and cons of each? What happened to the intense pangs of nostalgia she’d feel when ambling around Occom Pond? Where were her late nights making D-style edits, fixing margins and mistakes and cleaning up the InDesign template so that the Opinion page of The Dartmouth looked up to snuff the next day? Where was her excitement to go out and dance until obscure hours of the night? Where was that girl who cared so much during this time when I most needed her?
At first I thought this disengagement from Dartmouth was apathy, and funnily enough, that jolted me. It scared me that I didn’t experience the charged anxiety of leaving Dartmouth forever that so many of my TTLG predecessors seemed to have experienced. And so, I figured a little trip down memory lane in my Google Photos app would get the waterworks flowing.
I was greeted with a colorful kaleidoscope of the Dartmouth I remembered. Photos of all the delicious pastries lined up in the small KAF display case in Baker. Pictures of Baker Tower at every hour of the day. The auto-generated Google Photos memory collection from two years ago that featured blurry videos of our night trip to the Connecticut River and the medium pan-fried jalapeño pizzas we had delivered to Morton Hall for our girls’ romcom night. Stark, amber-colored Timberlands crunching and packing the fresh powder underneath. And soon, I started to remember the small moments at Dartmouth that have weirdly never left me. Like the walk in the dark towards the golf course with Nalgenes full of soap and water so that we could join the others and slide down a large tarp in our bathing suits. Or the professor who called my name after class and complimented me on my most recent opinion piece. Making stone tools outside Rocky. Moosilauke at dawn, tennis under the full rays of the sun, tearful and hushed conversations at twilight. Oh, right, and that time I slept through a midterm that, later, my professors and I laughed about. The journey into the past wasn’t quite the tear-jerking experience I had expected, but more of a quiet perusal that tickled small smiles out of me.
Ultimately, what I’ve come to realize is that I’m not apathetic, but ready to leave — and that’s okay, because I’ve had the chance to live through my Dartmouth experiences and can now be grateful for them. Dartmouth helped me make lifelong friends with whom I've shared my most vulnerable sides. Dartmouth gave me challenging and interesting learning environments with professors who checked in with me during the pandemic long after I had taken their classes. Dartmouth helped me set the trajectory of my professional career through guidance which I’m blessed to have received. Dartmouth helped me come into my own so that I could be more confident about what I wear, what I say and who I am. Dartmouth has done so much for me that there is little, if not nothing, else it has left to provide, and for better or for worse, the pandemic has made this realization all the more stark.
“Return to normal” never quite happened, the pandemic fatigue still hasn’t left me, and for now, we have the Frankenstein version of learning environments and casual hangouts — trial and error, eclectic parts mixed together for semblance of the real thing. Maybe a true return to normalcy won’t ever happen. But that’s okay too, because it gives me all the more cause to celebrate and give thanks for the experiences I remember so fondly and to look forward to making new memories. So though this TTLG isn’t quite the dramatic confetti-filled send-off I had envisioned for myself, it’s one that I wouldn’t have any other way. I am leaving Dartmouth feeling oddly content, despite feeling robbed of my college experience at first. If anything, this peaceful reconciliation before last goodbyes is proof of a Dartmouth life chapter well spent and maximized to the fullest. And now, with full hearts, we move on to the next.
Pak is a member of the Class of 2021 and a former opinion editor of The Dartmouth.