The Beginning of the End: Preemptive Nostalgia

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Last Monday was my last first day of school. Ever. Sure, I suppose I may someday go on to grad school, but those plans are indistinct and far off. It won’t be for a long time that I get that rush of excitement when meeting a new teacher and looking at a new syllabus. This last first day also represents the first of many “lasts” we seniors will confront during this final semester at Middlebury. It’s time for a bit of preemptive nostalgia.

That morning I grabbed breakfast in Ross Dining Hall, and I noticed an awkward freshman practicing his Chinese characters in a messy, loopy scrawl. That was me, I realized, just three short years ago. And in those years I went from knowing not a single word or character in Mandarin to having studied abroad in China and speaking the language with a confidence that would have astounded me as a freshman.

That’s a big change, I thought—so what else has changed in four years? Well, I suppose I’m no longer that awkward freshman either—although I’m sure some of my friends would disagree. I’m a self-assured senior with the ability to speak and present and communicate with confidence and a little pizzazz, too.

I went about my day. First day of classes—man, do I know how to pick them well now. I can select classes that strike a balance between great professors and interesting material and challenging coursework. Heading to the library to work on my thesis—I’m reading academic literature and analyzing it in a way I never would have been able to freshman year. In Proctor Dining Hall, at dinnertime, I see dozens of friends that I have made over four years. And after dinner I spend the evening in extracurricular meetings, interests that I’ve discovered over my four years here.

It feels, in some ways, like so little has changed—but I know that so much has. When I give my information sessions at the admissions office, I see high school juniors and seniors—and I remember distinctly what it’s like to be in their shoes. It feels like yesterday that I was driving around New England with my parents attempting to find that perfect campus. But it’s not yesterday. It’s a long time ago and a lot has happened since then.

There are less than a hundred days before graduation. Double digits. The beginning of the end: The last J-Term is past. So is that last first day of school. And this Saturday was my last Winter Carnival Ball. Every weekend seems to bring about some milestone: the last trip to some restaurant, or the last party with some group of friends, or the last meeting with some professor.

But this mindset, even for a person as nostalgic as I, is a bit ridiculous. First of all, I still have more than three months left at Middlebury. Three months to study and to ski and to sleep and three months not to waste. And second, it would be wrong to say I’m not excited to leave, in some ways. I’ll miss Middlebury, a lot, but because of how I’ve grown in these four years I know that I’m ready to take on whatever is coming next.

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