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Senior Moments

By Jennifer Gabrielle ’06

This is the first in a series of essays by Gabrielle, an intern writer in the Office of College Relations, on being a Smith senior nearing graduation.

Smith Tattooed on Your Bicep

The first senior reality check arrived at the beginning of the spring semester in my mailbox. It was a form regarding graduation credit requirements. I fully admit to a moment of panic in which I questioned whether I had actually completed my degree requirements. What if I had miscalculated somewhere along the way? The thought of not graduating on time was terrifying.

Then again, the thought of graduating at all often has the same effect.

I approach graduation with a rush of terror and a flash of excitement, beneath which lurks a feeling of outright dread. I imagine it’s how you’d approach the tattoo parlor after four years of deliberating on a design, wondering whether you’re really ready for such a commitment. It is permanent, after all. There’s no turning back.

Soon, I will be branded with my very own B.A. It’s safe to say earning a diploma is at least slightly less painful than having a needle jabbed repeatedly into your flesh, but in both cases there must be a sense of pride and accomplishment upon coming out the other side –- alive. Both the diploma and the tattoo also represent a rite of passage and something to brand you for the rest of your life.

Some days, though, a tattoo seems less daunting.

The second major moment for me was a little thing called “academic regalia” -- that is, caps and gowns. Trying on my regalia brought me back to my senior year of high school and simultaneously propelled me forward to Sunday, May 21, the date that looms like a tattoo artist over a bicep. I felt silly, yet grown up: I was a little girl playing dress-up in her mother’s nightgown, and a collegiate scholar making her debut in the Real World -- not the MTV reality show, but my new life as an adult.

Rally Day offered a way to mix these two images as the seniors gathered in Sage Hall in their gowns and ridiculous hats. One girl wore a hat approximately the size of a small wading pool; another had a Nemo-like fish strapped to her head. For me, Rally Day was just a get-out-of-class-free card and a chance to take pictures with my friends in our funny outfits. I wasn’t expecting to get anything out of the ceremony itself, and, frankly, I had mixed feelings about the whole event. While I enjoyed hearing about the staff members, professors, and alumnae who received awards that afternoon, I found it hard to feel like we were doing something important enough to require a cap and gown when there was a girl in front of me with a fish on her head.

Needless to say, I was surprised when, at the very end of the panel discussion, Julia Bolz ’83 said something I will never forget: “The world needs you.” I will remember these words not because they make a powerful statement, but because they made me realize how highly the College thinks of its students and how much they want for us beyond its doors. A statement of this magnitude could be overwhelming, but with everything it has to offer, Smith does its best to prepare and encourage us for the tasks that lie ahead.

Being a part of this legacy is more exhilarating than auditioning for the Real World with a fish strapped to your head. (Or so I’ve heard.) It is the flash of excitement I feel as I anticipate my post-diploma life; it is the thrill of a beautiful new tattoo and the comfort of a friend who’s there to squeeze your hand and say, “You can do this.”

And I can. Facing the needle seems such a small obstacle now, knowing the world needs me. Besides, I’ve heard Smith looks good on a resumé; I bet it’d look great on my bicep.

4/4/06
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