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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The smell of the Watson stairwell, and everything that came after

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A few nights ago, I was sitting in Carbone’s with three of my closest friends when we started discussing our freshmen selves. Though we were all varying levels of immature and awkward as freshmen, we all agreed that we are vastly different people today than we were in September 2011. None of us could put our finger on exactly how we’ve changed (I think we all wondered if we’ve truly changed at all), but we all knew on a deep level that being at Carleton has profoundly shaped who we are and how we engage in the world today. Simply being at Carleton, surrounded by the unassuming and awe-inspiring people who animate this campus, has unearthed our truest selves.

I don’t mean to discount our former selves, or to abstract our college experience by invoking lofty, ambiguous, self-helpy tropes. Rather, I mean to suggest that spending four of your most impressionable years at a place like Carleton transforms you in ways you can’t predict, or even recognize until you’re days away from graduation. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone changes in the same way or at the same rate. I do believe, though, that most people leave Carleton with a better sense of who they are and what they stand for, and an understanding that both will always be in flux. The willingness, and even eagerness to embrace difference, difficulty, and discomfort distinguishes Carleton students, and hopefully always will.

Though I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Carleton, it has not always been easy. We all know what it feels like to be depleted by the demands that are made of us, by others, yes, but most of all by ourselves. Thankfully, and at times remarkably, we have learned how to fill each other up again. We’ve learned to ease our stress by embracing adventure, by running naked in the night-rain or climbing onto the roof of some (many) unnamed building(s). Truly, though, Carleton has a way of putting your problems into perspective – not by diminishing them, but by reminding us that we are so very lucky to be where we are, and that there are few things a dip in the Boliou fountain can’t cure, at least for a little while.

Four years have gone by, and I can still remember the smell of the Watson stairwell in the end-of-summer heat. I can still see the glow on my friends’ faces when they first read Thoreau or learned about quantum theory or basked in the rising sun at Rotblatt. I can still remember what it felt like when I first failed a test, when I first cried during a professor’s office hours, and when I first lost a friend. I remember February 28, 2014. I remember feeling the bonds of our community tighten around us, holding us together while we collectively fell apart.

And I remember that spring, different from others, but somehow still filled with hope, fueled by fierce fervor to live as James, Michael and Paxton did – with determination, dedication, thoughtfulness, and so, so much love.

I heard someone say once that leaving college is like being uprooted from the Garden of Eden. While it’s true that Carleton is a profoundly special place, this statement undersells our college experience. Though we have all known what it means to be carefree at Carleton, the past four years have not been easy. Moments of triumph were always meted by moments of self- doubt and defeat. In fact, Carleton is less “Garden of Eden” and more “garden of existential crises.” But these crises have changed us for the better, and have equipped us to lead more humble, intentional, fulfilling lives.

That’s not to say that all or any of us have figured out how to live fulfilling lives. In fact, I’m of the belief that “living a fulfilling life” is really code for “endlessly trying to figure out how to live a fulfilling life.” In other words, learning how to live fully is a process, not a puzzle.

At some point, we all have to head out and hope for the best. When you do, hold Carleton close to your heart. As long as we remember the amazing experiences we’ve had, the incredible people we’ve met, and the profound lessons we’ve learned, we’ll be way more than okay. Of that, I’m certain.

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