One of my mentors told me that Bowdoin’s student climate tends to change every four years, either in a positive or negative way. This academic year, I feel like the party scene at Bowdoin became weak and uninspired. When I think of the partiers of Bowdoin, the Classes of 2016 and 2017 come to mind, given the momentous parties they often threw in Coles Tower. “We depended so much on upperclassmen to host good parties that now we don’t know how to do it ourselves,” a friend and fellow senior once said. College House parties have lost significant upperclassman turnout this year, likely because there weren’t enough seniors in the crowd to encourage turnout. Most seniors opt to socialize off-campus, which makes Bowdoin’s campus feel like a ghost town on the weekends.
As a government major who often reads about civic society and active participation, I noticed signs at the beginning of the academic year that the senior class would be less engaged than previous class years. The members of the 2018 class council ran uncontested. By January of this year, senior attendance at the traditional senior nights had gotten so low that the class council announced that the weekly event would become biweekly. In my junior year, I had concerns that senior year wouldn’t be as eventful as I’d hoped it would be.
Throughout my Bowdoin career, I was often mistaken for a senior from the Class of 2016 or 2017 because my social circles encompassed mostly upperclassmen who were engaged in various parts of campus culture. My network of friends in my year peaked in sophomore year and barely increased afterward. So I continued making friends across class years to fill a void caused by the social disconnect in the Class of 2018.
From my vantage point, the waning of the senior class’s enthusiasm is visible, but it is worth contemplating why. Our time at Bowdoin was riddled with controversial party incidents and nasty debates on social media. There was “Cracksgiving” in our freshman year when members of the team notoriously dressed as Native Americans, the “gangster” party that involved stereotypical Black American attire and the tongue-and-cheek hosting of the “tequila” party where attendees wore mini sombreros. The provocative comments on the anonymous app “Yik Yak” only created a “cesspool of distrust,” as President Rose put it. In total, the senior class witnessed three race-based parties. These events created a schism between students who felt betrayed and humiliated and other students who felt that the other side—and Bowdoin’s administration—was policing student behavior. Additionally, many of us went abroad as juniors, leaving little time to address our grievances as a class before senior year.
Some may say that the Class of 2018’s divide is prefaced on our tendency to break into social cliques that rarely overlap. If we were a socially incongruous class from the start, the race-themed parties only divided us further. Others may think that the current state of American politics and the economy gives upperclassmen more anxiety about their futures post-grad and less interest in socializing.
I don’t enjoy presenting problems without offering solutions, so I would suggest playing into what we naturally feel as millennials: nostalgia. We all know about senioritis, a senior’s lack of motivation and overall comfort with letting his or her grades drop. On this campus, though, I never hear “senior nostalgia,” a term I often used in high school as a reminder to experience everything on my bucket list before I graduate.
Based on what I’ve seen from Bowdoin alumni, there are some natural responses to the nostalgia felt during senior year. We can embellish our narratives about college because we long for exciting memories to reminisce about or fabricate entirely new elements to our experience as a coping mechanism if college was underwhelming or even traumatic. These strategies signify “hiareth,” a Welsh word that roughly translates to a nostalgia for a home or past to which one cannot return—a home that maybe never existed.
The third option is to make memories with the time that is left. Let’s meet new people and explore different places. I understand that this is hard to do. No one is expected to like everyone in the senior class, but we should at least feel comfortable inhabiting the same space. I ask for both sides of this class-wide pain to break away from your intimacy with grief and begin a love affair with kindness—to yourself and to others. We grieve first so that we’re able to feel other emotions later. Don’t be ashamed of living through crisis. Don’t let the past keep you from living your best life. Be willing to smile like the cheerful first-year students who have made my time as a proctor worthwhile.
Senior year should be a last hurrah before we start missing the ease of getting lunch with people everyday. If we alone can’t revive the Bowdoin social scene, let’s at least attend every senior event that remains. In the words of the softer, un-buff Drake, “show me a good time.”