Warm Wishes: Saying Hello and Goodbye to Dartmouth in My Final Term
Novi Zhukovsky ’22 attempts to put her feelings about entering her senior spring into words.
Senior Spring: My final, prodigal term at Dartmouth College. In a lot of ways, the start to this quarter has felt extremely ordinary: The usual pre-class jitters, luxuriously long Foco dinners with friends recounting every detail of break, neglecting to unpack my suitcase until week two — the list goes on. But as the spring weather brings the shrubbery back to life, my time at the College dwindles away with each new sprouting flower. Speaking technically, as it is currently week two, I am somehow already a fifth of the way through the term.
Before leaving home at the end of spring break, my mother kept asking me: “How do you feel about graduating so soon? About leaving college?” Her probe immediately reminded me of the annual birthday question: “How does it feel to be a year older?” It’s a coin toss whether I’ll answer the question honestly by shrugging my shoulders in ambivalence or offer some sarcastic anecdote about finding new wrinkles on my forehead. I feel similarly about answering her question about my senior spring. Honestly, I’m just as curious about my feelings as she is.
Moments like these — ones that demarcate life transitions — often come with the expectation of instilling some tangible gut feeling. But honestly? I have no idea how to quantify my feelings about my final weeks here. There are things, specific things, that I am excited about or am anxious for. Maybe it will help me digest my feelings about my final term by going step by step, looking at the little things.
I am excited to get my diploma. I can tell what you’re thinking; we all know a diploma is just a useless sheet of paper our parents will hang up in our old childhood bedroom, left to collect dust and occasionally be admired when used as bragging material around guests. But even though it is the electronic record that really matters for proving I passed 35 classes over four years, the sheet of paper with my name on it is, for me, a tangible representation of my perseverance. And, well, I guess it’s for my parents, too. But maybe I’ll take my diploma and hang it up in my first apartment. That sounds like a nice idea to me.
I am nervous to say goodbye. Not to my best friends or the people I know I will keep in touch with after I graduate, but to the College itself. The walls, the classrooms — God, the library. These buildings carry so much meaning to me, to my relationships, my work; they’ve seen me in so many phases of life, so many states of being, both physically and mentally, that my family and friends will likely never know of. I’ve aged alongside the increasingly decrepit wooden chairs in the 1902 room. We’ve worn out together, and seen so many come and go through the portrait-laden walls. I know that it will all be there when I graduate and return as a visitor. But then, these places won’t really be mine anymore.
Come June, I’ll be saying goodbye to my chairs, my desks, my steps, my streets — the ones that were always there for my use. I won't be there to see them age and change and get renovated and zhuzhed up. They won’t be as familiar, as easily remembered. They’ll belong to a new group of students, and then a new group after that. That is a beautiful thing, but also a sad thing. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not trying to anthropomorphize wooden structures. But during my most lonely times in this place, it was the walls around me that provided me with comfort, the ghosts of students past that made me feel seen. I hope my ghost continues to linger above Alcove III in Sanborn, providing company to all who are struggling to find their place at this college.
I am scared to relinquish my identity as a student. I have been a student for as long as my memory reaches — learning, developing and molding, with so much help along the way. I have also benefited from holding the title of a student; learning implies making mistakes — of which I have made many in the past 21 years, but are certainly concentrated in my most recent four. Being a student carries with it the expectation that we have to fail in order to grow, which transforms our mistakes into growing pains: unpleasant, but necessary. I wonder how my entrance into the professional world will change this dynamic. The mistakes I make in the workforce will have different implications than when I mess up a tricky exam question. Will I suddenly be labeled an “adult,” expected to perform up to par as soon as I don business casual attire and step into a corporate setting? Maybe. But perhaps I am ready for the responsibility. I can take the skills I have learned from failing and restarting and channel them into my new endeavors. The stakes are higher, but I am also undeniably wiser than I was when I started college.
Lastly — and perhaps the scariest worry of them all — is how I will look back on this spring term when it’s all over. Will it live up to the lore of senior springs past, filled with excessive debauchery, sunny outdoor adventures and cemented friendships? Or will it make me feel slightly sick of this place and provide me with the closure I need to leave and never turn back? I know that the possibility that this quarter will somehow unfold in a way that can be packaged up into a neat narrative is slim to none, but as a writer, it’s hard to stop myself from trying to parse it out before it’s even over.
I guess I can take solace in what I do know: This term will be messy, emotional, glorious and probably even a little boring at times — as is life. At the end of this piece, I still don’t know how I feel about this term as a whole, and of the things I can anticipate, I am both excited and scared. So no, mom, I don’t have an answer to your question, and I may never have one. All I can say is how lucky I am to be able to be part of this experience that has inspired so many wonderful, complicated and challenging feelings and that makes saying goodbye so hard.