Monday, March 7, 2011


We smiled knowingly at each other as he began pushing the shopping cart. I jumped on the front; he pushed faster. A familiar song from our childhood played hazily from the speaker system: we sing to each other. (There are no other PriceChopper customers in sight to judge us.) We go down aisle after aisle, picking up boxes of cookies, putting them back, taking three more of a different brand; we get peanut butter, chocolate, cheese, hummus; we fill our cart knowing we will eat like Snack Food Kings through finals period. At the checkout counter we try to convince the cashier to give us all of the leftover baguettes for free -- he counters with the reasonable point that he could lose his job. As we drove home through the dull New Hampshire dark, I said, "Thanks so much for this. It was really nice to get away from Hanover for a little while."

Away-from-Hanover, in this case, meant a 20-minute trek to a prep school 20 minutes south of Dartmouth to see my friend's high school play. They were performing "Sweeny Todd"; he needed a car, and I needed a break -- and so we went. The closer we got to the school, the more reminiscent he became: "Look at the view!" he cried. "There is no view..." I said, looking off into the black trees. "No, it's coming up! Wait for it.... wait for it... NOW!" and, sure enough, a sloping campus revealed itself from amidst the trees, shining and warm on the hillside.

As we walked into the theatre, I felt immediately out of place. Everyone else was, for those familiar with uniforms, in "Friday Dress" -- suits for men, dresses for women. I was wearing jeans, a flannel shirt, and snowboots. And yet, I was almost glad to stand out; I was not only a play-watcher, I was a people-watcher, borne back into the world of high school theatre once again, witnessing the glimmering eagerness of being-out-on-a-school-night, of classmates in costume, of mingling with teachers under the equalizing gaze of the proscenium. During intermission, I smiled nostalgically at the over-tight dresses of the girls, at the ill-fitting suits of the boys: at the performative insecurity of high school. When the show ended, the actors poured out into the auditorium, not even changing out of their costumes before rushing into the open arms of friends and family.

And I remembered my days in high school spent rehearsing; my nights eating Subway for dinner on the way home; the chilling anticipation of before each show and the kindness of teachers in assigning less homework over opening weekend. I remembered the communal joy of being a part of a production, of traveling to other schools, treading the fine line of support and scoping-out-the-competition. But most of all, I remembered the divided life of high school: time between home and classes, friends you only see during the day, family dinners at night, homework done at the kitchen counter or at your father's desk. It all felt so utterly different from Dartmouth -- from the 24-hour day, from all-nighters and everything unsupervised.

I found myself struck by the notion that as much as high school can try to prepare you for college, it never will. And perhaps that's why it was so nice to get away from Dartmouth for an evening (to wander raucously through supermarket aisles; to take the long way home) -- because sometimes it's important to reflect on how life worked before college. And so I say to you, dear readers: treasure your time in high school while it lasts. Rejoice in the simple wonder of plays, of lunch periods, of the library that you hardly use. Embrace the measured freedom of staying out past curfew, of getting your license, of dressing up for dances. Each of those things -- and a thousand more -- is precious in its own right; and from the moment you graduate, you'll only be able to watch them as I watched the audience during intermission: from a point of detached reflection, punctuated by fleeting moments of recollection.

And another thing, readers: find those moments, once you're away from home, that bring you back to the simpler joys of schooldays. In the words of Ferris Bueller, the greatest high-schooler of our era: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." As much as I love Dartmouth, it's not the only thing I want to see when I look around. See beyond, dear readers; give yourself a moment to reflect in broad-scope every so often; consider not only where you are, but where you came from, and, if you're brave enough, where you are going. Love the moment that surrounds you, not without context, but because of all the moments before and after it, too. And college will be but one moment in a string of beautiful moments -- don't try so hard to create memories that you find yourself always standing one step ahead of time, looking back on it and wondering after its worth; stand firmly, look around, remember and expect, but be here now.

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