A Love Letter to the Non-Library (Andover Commencement Commentary)

June 7, 2020
5 min read

“How are you feeling?” I asked a senior friend around this time last year. “Everything has an added weight to it,” he replied. “Heavy with the thought that everything I do might be the last time I do it.”

This is how I always imagined how I would be feeling now. The bittersweetness of a proper goodbye: the long hugs, the tears, the boxes, the surreality of your world emptying out around you, and then passing by outside the window. The weight of realizing that time has irreversibly passed, experiences, thoughts, and feelings lived once and never again, only remembered. My commencement commentary, I imagined, would be an embodiment of this. I was no stranger to sappy farewell addresses: to the paper, to friends, to each of the past eight terms, given in journal entries written on Amtrak trains speeding southwest. This last farewell would be the same, the biggest of them all, an outflow of memories and emotions that I would curate into a neat thousand-word portrait.

Instead, I find myself at a loss for what to say. I feel blocked off from who I was, who I am. I reflect on the past three years and I have no problem finding the brightest glowing pieces, putting them into words, and affirming their value to me, but I do so with a blank heart. I write without truly remembering.

I don’t remember fall days on the lawn, or in Snyder when EEE was the dominant pathological concern on our minds. I don’t remember the fresh air, the wisps of summer heat draining away, the softness of grass or crunch of gravel beneath my feet, the golden shafts of late afternoon shattering between the leaves and branches above. I don’t remember meeting the person who would become my best friend, who has been by my side for all three of these unremembered years, who flew out to Hong Kong when I was stranded there and then almost let me die of a high fever in a hotel in Shanghai.

I literally forgot about one of the proudest things I’ve ever made, the video that for a year was attached to my name: I forgot that John has a plan for me, that he only loves his million dollar squash courts, he’s sorry. I don’t remember Charlie Mayhew calling me and telling me to come to WPAA at 9:30 AM on a rainy Sunday morning. I don’t remember the rush of running tech on show night, seeing the columns of Samphil flash on to the screen. I don’t remember the audience laughing so loud at every line that I worried they’d miss the next (subtitles were a good call), roaring and applauding until the screen turned black and the spotlights came back on, four minutes that compete for the happiest in my life.

At this point I don’t even remember the Newsroom, the place that contained everything that I cared about for a year. I don’t remember the twinkle and glow of the string lights, the colorful paintings and signatures scrawled on every wall, ceiling tile, and surface, the commotion of three dozen people wading urgently through a small sea of half-broken chairs and backpacks to reach the rice krispies and capri suns spilling out of green Whole Foods bags. I don’t remember the joyful voices, the revelatory conversations, the cathartic screams that filled the cramped and poorly circulated air. I don’t remember the bottomless feeling that I didn’t and would never belong in that space, or the place that I eventually found for myself, the crushing pressure and unending sprint that is total responsibility, the boundless and radiant love for the people who I knew would be by my side no matter what.

At the end of winter term, I felt like I had finally carved out a place for myself and found some sense of who I was. I slept at 10 PM and woke up at 5:30 AM, chugging as much water as I could before jogging into the chilly morning air, summiting Boston Hill just as the pink cast of sunrise began to soak the hillside below. I lost and found myself in the thrill of revelatory conversations, the pride from a friend telling me “I appreciate you in discussions,” the awe and excitement of meaningful reading and research. I turned in my phone for Existentialism and didn’t take it back until I left for break — I didn’t need anything or anyone telling me what to do, what hoop to jump through next. I lived in the bliss of finally getting to just be an Andover student, just be a senior, just be me.

Now this too feels a world away. I had often looked forward to college being a confident fresh start, the continuing growth of my potential and self; instead, with spring warmth and longer days came the realization that I would be spending my next four years at an amazing school — that didn’t offer an English major. It seemed like it was once again time to humble myself, just put my head down and move forward through the uncertainty. I scrambled to apply to internships, programs, whatever I could find. I completely forgot the self that I had previously found. Later, when a call with someone in an entrepreneurship program turned into a two-hour-long discussion about trauma literature and existentialist philosophy, I rediscovered what it felt like to be me.

But, separated from my Andover self, from the mythic bliss of senior spring and my own romantic conception of what my Andover farewell would look like, I don’t feel like I’ve come to any new clarity or understanding of my Andover experience. I write this commentary feeling simply lost, maybe more so than at any time in my life before. Reading my friends’ drafts, I’m wracked with guilt. Why do I struggle so much to find meaning, something cohesive to share? The situation is far from what I expected, but I pride myself in my ability to adapt to whatever hits me and keep going. Where was the new insight, the ever-steady continuation of the narrative? Was there even anything about my Andover journey worth sharing? I spent entire days putting everything else off to write, only to type gibberish totally disconnected from myself; time after time I all but decided to give up.

Yet, nine days past the submission deadline, I continue trying to bash out this article. I owe this to Tessa, who urged me to keep going and alleviated my guilt by being even further behind on her article than me; to Junah, who humbled me down into the ground with her endlessly confident, thoughtful article; and to Kelly, who guided my final realization: that it’s okay not to have a grand, profound revelation to share. It’s okay to accept my understanding of my Andover experience as what it’s become, to appreciate my three years here without feeling the need to unpack every bit of it. It’s okay to let myself have faith in myself, faith that I’ll eventually find myself again, that things will be okay.

Instead of the warmth, the loving sorrow, the bittersweet nostalgia I thought this article would contain, it ends up being a simple expression of gratitude — not for a unified whole, but for a patchwork of people, places, and memories that I don’t know how to fit together (Junah’s the puzzle master, after all). Maybe in a bit of time, after classes really, truly, finally, end, or while listening to commencement speeches on Zoom, or when the class of ’21 walks down the vista with a new Head of School that we first interviewed but who will never be ours; maybe then a greater semblance of Andover will come together. Maybe then the full force of three of the most transformative, meaningful years of my life so far will crash through the wall of separation and down onto me. But I’m not going to chase this. For now, I am grateful for the Andover that I have. I will hold these big blue fragments deep in my heart and cherish them in whatever shape they take, however much space they take up, whatever direction or lack thereof that they steer me in.1 2

  1. Originally published in the Commencement issue of The Phillipian on June 7, 2020. 

  2. About the title: during my upper (11th grade) year, the campus library was closed for renovations, scattering the large amount of students who normally worked there across temporary replacement locations across campus. So many of my memories, especially fleeting ones, were made in this non-library; this article is a love letter to these fleeting memories, a love letter to the non-library.