I didn’t mean to graduate. I did a pretty good job of forestalling it, finding every impediment to arrest the current. But time glides on, nature abhors a vacuum, and I am left with little time to even ask if it was the Best Five Years! Well, except now, at 3:40 a.m., alone in the office.

In the morning I’ll take the train from 116th to 59th Street. I’ll turn East and walk from 8th Avenue until I reach this building, at Lexington. It is tall, a convenient landmark. There’s an emergency kit with a respirator and 250 mL of water under every desk.

I’ll pass many people and recognize none. More people work for this company in this office (one of our 192) than attend Bowdoin. I’ll take the elevator up to six, then walk down to three, sit down in 03E-113 (in the fun wing, f.y.i.), and work. Gladly! For years.

When I arrived at Bowdoin I thought only of work. By the time I left, I thought only of people. Today I am young again, and think mostly of work. It can take anywhere from three months to three years to get together with a friend. There is a lot I still owe you all.

There is one difference between Bowdoin and the world outside. The world is sparse, big and slow. Yes, even here in bustling New York City, there is a deep slowness. Bowdoin is dense, small and fast. Yes, I mean fast. It’s a supercritical chain reaction of people and ideas. You cannot help but run into friends, and Searles Science Building is thirty seconds from the Visual Arts Center and three minutes from your dorm (depending). Now, I can’t even get out of this building in three minutes. 

So, yes, I miss the clichéd intimate liberal-artsiness of it all. You do a lot of living per second.
Alumni tend to tell students that you don’t know how good you have it, and to make the most of it. But that seems neither insightful nor actionable. I actually have great faith in Bowdoin students’ ability to make the most of it. Moreover, the first thing any alumnus should acknowledge is that our experiences are a poor predictor of yours.

Graduation is divergent. With its bigness comes real life’s particularity, its incoherence. Our cohort dissolves; a generation falls out of phase with itself. Other threads, personal and professional, come to dominate. Life individualizes, independently.

Maybe they were the best fourish years. People rightly disagree. Regardless, the best of the rest of your life will not be so neatly circumscribed by spatiotemporal boundaries, a contiguous place and time with a name you can wear on your back. There are no more semesters.

At homecomings, this stings. For a moment it seems everyone is together again — but it is soon revealed as a mirage, like crossing shadows. What you recapture is a pale imitation. I described this to a friend. “You just have to learn to be happy with less,” she said.

I found that blunt, beautiful, and true. But “less” what? Not less friendship, less learning, or less meaning. Less density.

The campus was and remains a focal point, but the authentic alumni experience is not the ghost we grasp at on campus. It does not play out at the place we mistakenly call “Bowdoin.” Bowdoin exists in the fleeting, contingent reunions, but it isn’t encapsulated by them.

The authentic experience plays out subtly, quietly, for the rest of our lives. Our Bowdoin is diffuse, radiating out 10,000 miles. It has been there all along, but we only see it when our pupils dilate in the twilight of what we’ve known. 

What do we see? 

We see what Bowdoin teaches, what remains when the cramming fades and the lessons are distilled. We see the true Bowdoin Hello, exchanged between acquaintances who only appreciate the extent of their shared experience once they’re removed from it. We see Bowdoin.

And we begin to notice new lights, in the distance, dotting the sparse expanse in myriad signature colors. We hope we’ve packed what we need for the journey.