A senior’s parting words of wisdom are usually some intonation of the adage, “Take advantage of everything Bowdoin has to offer while you can.”
As with most adages, they are true and sincere words.
Trying my best to abide by this rule, I’ve approached the vast majority of Bowdoin life with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. Generally, that excitement has come naturally.
An English major (a title I’ve turned into an ideological stance more than an academic designation), nothing sends chills through me like sitting in class and experiencing that elusive academic moment wherein a book just unfolds.
Outside academia, too, I’ve tried to keep the thrill alive. I’ve treasured each lap around the track, every breakfast catch-up with friends, any school-wide event, and every dinner with my teammates.
The truth is, though, that “taking advantage of everything” is hard work. And now, at the threshold of my life’s next chapter, I’m wondering—worrying, actually—if I took enough advantage of Bowdoin.
I genuinely relished in esoteric discussions on far-fetched ideas from old books; there were plenty of moments, however, when, at 3 a.m. in the Chamberlain room, shaking the last cold droplets of coffee out of my Sustainable Bowdoin mug, I cursed Romantic poetry and its supposed adherence to Gothic conventions, or Renaissance drama and its homosociality.
I didn’t go to the Chris Hill lecture a few weeks ago because there was new episode of “30 Rock” on hulu.com. The other night, I closed my door, called my mom and scribbled in my blog instead of going to the improv show.
In three weeks, I leave Bowdoin behind, and I’m forced, now, to confront the possibility that I didn’t engage enough with this campus; I didn’t raise vigorous intellectual debates with friends or classmates enough, didn’t probe professors for their wisdom as much as I should have, didn’t pack my schedule with as many lectures and performances as were available, and maybe—most disturbing of all—that I just didn’t care enough to do so.
But one opportunity presented itself that I did grab hold of, one that I think proved as enriching as at least a few Common Hours.
During winter break of my sophomore year, I saw a post in the student digest, from the opinion editor of the Orient, asking for submissions.
People who love writing come to a point, I think, when they feel a commanding urge to write publicly. It’s how they communicate most effectively and sincerely; the thoughts build enough that it seems they might spill over and suffocate if not given a voice in the shape of words.
That urge has led me to this, my last of the 34 columns I’ve written over the past two and a half years.
The first column I wrote was arguably the most stressful endeavor of my young life. I spent hours composing it, re-reading it, changing words, adding sentences. I had about five friends read it for me, torturing them with questions I didn’t really want honest answers to:
“You’re sure it’s funny? Because I didn’t see you laugh when you read it. It needs to be funny. You can tell me if it’s not, I want an honest answer.”
“It’s very funny, yes.”
“Very funny? Is it the right kind of funny, though? I don’t want offensive funny, you know. I don’t want to turn people off. I really don’t see you laughing, are you sure it’s funny?”
“I’m both amused and unoffended, I promise.”
This could go on for hours. The anxiety, though tempered, remains; I still do a fair amount of pacing around my room, biting my nails, and muttering aloud to myself to eke out a column.
Joan Didion (who’s always good for a well-timed quote) once wrote, “The peculiarity of being a writer is that the entire enterprise involves the mortal humiliation of seeing one’s own words in print.”
But my muttering and pacing now comes less from my fear of exposure than it does from that very campus engagement I’ve been mulling over these past few weeks. I’ve learned to not think of these columns as putting my opinions on the front lines of criticism, and more as me striking up a conversation with Bowdoin.
My first few conversations had all the typical insecurity of a first date’s small talk—strained, self-conscious, and nerve-wracking. Over the years, though, like any good relationship, the talks have gotten easier, livelier, and more enriching. I never write a column in which I don’t feel I’ve revealed something new about our lives as Bowdoin students to myself and to my readers.
I paced about a mile around my little tower room and had an hour’s worth of dialogue with myself for this particular column.
Originally, I wanted to preach the “take advantage” trope, but, in truth, I haven’t been 100 percent faithful to that notion in my years here, and my sense of engagement, largely because of this column, hasn’t really suffered for it.
I also realized that I’m not too worried about having this printed. After all, Bowdoin, you and I have exchanged a lot of words over the past couple of years. We’re pretty close friends, now, and I think I can finish this column feeling confident that, even if I don’t say it out loud, you get what I mean.
So thanks, Bowdoin. It was a good talk.