When you spend nearly all of your time in a community where you’re constantly surrounded by people overwhelmingly in the 18-22 age range, the term “senior” can easily feel more like “senior citizen.” Sometimes I joke that my AARP card came in the mail fall term or that I’m looking forward to entering retirement next year. As the year comes to a close, then, I find myself in a strange predicament of accepting that in a couple of months 22 will actually be very, very young, but still carrying this sense of wisdom and experience that makes the term “senior” meaningful. Something about being caught in this strange transition has caused an often frustratingly strong desire to share some of the things I’ve learned during my time on this campus with those who still have a lot of time left. Even more annoying is recognizing that so many of these trifles are exactly the pieces of wisdom I have been given by departing seniors every year I’ve been here.
What a lot of these musings ultimately boil down to is “Make the most of it.” As a senior, it’s very easy to look back and think about all the things you didn’t do: the plays and musicals you didn’t audition for, the sports you never learned to play, the classes you didn’t take, the Rotblatts you didn’t stay up all night for, and innumerable other little pieces that might have made your Carleton experience, well, more. Why did I stay home and watch 5 episodes of Parks and Rec when I could have been meeting new people, or going for a walk in the Arb, or having an amazing philosophical discussion with my favorite prof over a beer? As we reflect, there are so many places where we wish we would have done, experienced, or simply been more.
To emphasize these missing pieces, though, is to miss all of the incredible and amazing things that have filled up the time we’ve spent here. We’re thinking about Carleton as a field of flowers; it’s very easy to find a single white flower in a sea of red ones. In actuality, though, that’s not how we’ve navigated our time here; our bias in looking backward is that we see things we couldn’t at the time. Going through a week at Carleton, you think little about the things you’re not doing, but a whole lot about the things you are. This is something more like the tired but useful needle in a haystack metaphor; it’s hard to find the opportunities we’re missing when we’re so overwhelmed by all of the things we do have going on.
I think we also tend to hold ourselves to some superhuman kind of ideal when we think about all the things we might have done. When it comes down to it, you probably stayed home and watched those 5 episodes of Parks and Rec because you were exhausted, you had just written a paper, you just needed some alone time, or any number of other possible factors that made that the right decision for you at that moment. Expecting that we always be doing something that will enrich our time at Carleton in a traditional sense is both impossible and reflects a very limited view of what’s enriching. Ultimately, a big part of college is learning more about who you are and what you need. Moments where those needs and that personhood are expressed, even in something as innocuous as an evening alone with a glass of wine and Amy Poehler, can be deeply enriching if we just let them be so.
A final important note is that if we really did everything we could while we were at Carleton, I’m convinced we wouldn’t enjoy it to the same extent or miss it nearly as much once we’re gone. Part of the beauty of a place like Carleton is knowing that you cannot be in every activity you want to, take every class that looks interesting, go to every talk, and so on. If we really could check off all the boxes on our Carleton checklists, graduation wouldn’t have a hint of sadness, but instead would be purely a mutual recognition that this chapter of our lives is over and we’re ready for a new checklist. In many ways, what makes us sad about the prospect of leaving Carleton is recognizing all of the chances we’ve missed in the last 4 years. The advice “Make the most of it,” then, might be better understood as not only an encouragement to check off as many of those boxes as possible, but also a recognition that there will always be more boxes to check off. We might add to this hackneyed phrase, “...but realize there’s always more.”
To conclude, I feel the need to share some of the pieces of wisdom I think have been most important during my time here. First, realize that never again will you be immersed in a community with so many interesting, passionate, open, intelligent, and diverse people as at Carleton. I recognize the problems around diversity that exist at Carleton, but once you leave, you’ll progressively be challenged less and less to consider the perspectives and experiences of people very different from yourself. Allow yourself to be challenged, and learn from it. Second, diversify your education. Many of the classes I’ve enjoyed the most at Carleton have forced me to use a different lexicon and manner of thinking while allowing me to infuse a lot of the discipline I know best and find most interesting. Take classes and be involved in activities that are connected to your passions. Third, know that college will be an incredible 4 years filled with many of the happiest moments of your life, but don’t forget that many of the hardest, darkest, and lowest points you’ve ever encountered will happen here too. Don’t be afraid to have these moments, and know that overcoming them will tell you a lot more about who you are than the happy moments. Recognize that your friends will have some of those moments too, and be there for each other when they happen. And finally, make the most of your time at Carleton, but realize there’s always more.