This spring, as I struggle with the idea that my time at Bowdoin will soon end, I have found myself rereading a piece that first appeared on this page last April. It’s one that resonated with me back then but speaks to me in new ways each time I return to it. In two months, in two years, and beyond, I hope I will continue to appreciate its message. I am referring to “Life per second,” by Toph Tucker ’12.

As a quick disclaimer, I cannot claim to really know the author beyond the strange way that any two random Bowdoin students do—well enough perhaps to chat at a party, but not necessarily enough to offer a quick hello in passing. And because his piece deals with life after Bowdoin, I cannot even maintain that I truly understand the depth of what he writes. I still have two months before the reality of post-grad life sets in, and I am keenly aware of the time that remains.

Avid readers of the Bowdoin Orient (of which I am a self-proclaimed number one fan) know the gist of it. But for those of you who have not yet read his piece, Toph beautifully and precisely reflects upon his time at Bowdoin, as well as the year that had elapsed between his 2013 graduation and last April. What he finds, living in the country’s most populated city, is that there is actually far less density of social interaction in the real world than at Bowdoin. It’s an interesting notion and one worth considering, even if it is not yet relevant to my life.

But one line has stood out to me time and time again: “When I arrived at Bowdoin I thought only of work. By the time I left, I thought only of people.”

It’s such a succinct way to sum up the years we spend in Brunswick. And while I lack the wisdom or experience to meaningfully reflect on much else of what he wrote, I look two months ahead to graduation and find that these words already linger with me. I will always prefer to think about the nights spent with my friends doing nothing and everything, than to remember the hours I put into studying for that one exam in that one class. Even today, that all seems so inconsequential.

But I could not say the same about myself four years ago (I’m happy to say I think I’ve grown a lot since then). I cannot speak for the rest of my peers, but I came here, like many newly matriculated college students, with the idea that higher education would serve as a means to a successful future. The idea of really enjoying my four years in Brunswick was, at the time, much more of an afterthought.

Back then, I valued academic success and the possibility of securing a job immediately after graduation over so many other things. Because really, who needs a break between school and work when you get two weeks of vacation and ten sick days per year? Don’t forget about federal holidays—thank God for Columbus Day. Of course, I still value this type of success now, though the feelings have tempered.

A friend described this to me over Spring Break as Bowdoin’s “culture of work and doing prestigious things” (not the catchiest designation, I know). Having arrived at college on the heels of successful high school careers, we can all relate to this idea. For the Class of 2015, each of us represents about twelve other applicants who, for one reason or another, ended up elsewhere, and it’s almost as if we work so hard just to validate that we earned these spots.

Amidst the pressure to become a Sarah and James Bowdoin Scholar, graduate Phi Beta Kappa, and land a respected internship with a full-time offer attached at the end of the summer, we sometimes ignore what else Bowdoin has to offer. We ignore the classes which truly interest us for the sake of the 101 (or, now, 1101) that will preserve our GPAs. In between meetings with the Career Planning Center and the fellowships office and our professors, we forget to “lose [ourselves] in generous enthusiasms,” as the Offer of the College directs. Instead, we lose ourselves to the idea that something better is on the horizon. All we have to do is make it through these four years, and then we’ll coast. This is an idea I have finally begun to question. 

I will always be proud of what I’ve accomplished academically here at Bowdoin. But at what cost do I hold that pride? I put off going abroad for the sake of my majors and in the interest of devoting enough time to the junior year internship search. Of course, the new friends I made here (while some of my closest friends studied in Spain, the United Kingdom and Russia) have helped define my Bowdoin experience in a meaningful way. But still, losing myself to a semester abroad would have been a worthwhile experience.

So when the memories of each lecture fade and we lose touch with Bowdoin’s culture of work, what do we want to remember? What will we remember? For me, I hope to push aside any recollection of my first year seminar and to instead think about the hours I spent lying with my friends on the Quad each spring. And when I look back on Tuesday nights, I want to be reminded of drinks at Joshua’s, not problem sets in the library.

It’s a sentiment I am glad to have realized at this point in my college career, but it’s one I wish had meant more to me four years ago, back when Bowdoin was still fresh.

So while I anxiously prepare myself to graduate on May 23, I find myself in the thick of never ending problem sets, papers and exams. But in two months when I walk across the steps of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art to shake President Mills’ hand, these obligations will cease to be relevant. In the end, it won’t be my academic successes or failures that measure the four years I spent in Brunswick. Rather, it will be the happy and incidental memories I made during those moments, however fleeting, when work was the last thing on my mind.

Colin Swords is a member of the Class of 2015.