Once upon a time, there was a woman named Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, or “Madame de Pompadour.” She was the chief mistress to King Louis XV, which was apparently something to brag about in those days. France was embroiled in the Seven Years’ War, and in keeping with the “French military victories” Google bomb, it was not going well. In 1757, France and Austria suffered a catastrophic defeat to Prussia at the Battle of Rossbach. Madame de Pompadour is said to have comforted Louis with the now-famous words, “Au reste – après nous, le Déluge.”
Besides — after us, the Deluge. Noah’s Flood. The one that destroyed the world.
Madame de Pompadour died in 1764, and Louis XV a decade later. In 1765, the British passed the Stamp Act, the first levied tax in the American colonies. And 1775, as we all know, was the beginning of the American Revolution. Maybe she was right.
That’s what we all think, right? That the world – our world – will not go on, cannot go on, without us. We are integral, we are essential. The way we feel right now, in this moment? Nobody can understand it, the desperate fear and breathless elation and bitter sadness that accompany endings that are not truly endings. Endings that throw open the world, whether we’re ready or not.
After us, the Flood.
I think she said it because if après nous nothing happens, then what was the point? If après nous the pale blue dot we live on does not change, we are just as cosmically small as Carl Sagan has always said we are, and that’s terrifying. The universe is endless, and we are tiny. But we are also huge. We are capable of being huge — of crippling hatred and massive grief, overwhelming joy and incredible love. We are tiny, but we are also made of stars.
At this moment, we are older than we’ve ever been, but we are also younger than we will ever be again. How crazy is that?
I gave away a lot of my stuff last weekend at bequests. Most of the things that mark me as a Dartmouth student are gone, packed into separate trash bags and given away. Items of clothing and flair and knickknacks that are pieces of me, that were pieces of the people before me. Last weekend, I sat in a room with my sisters and watched as four years of memories were scattered to the winds. It all felt oddly poignant, and then I remembered that we were giving away ratty old shirts and plastic swords and things we stole from fraternities. Pieces of us.
When I think about my time at Dartmouth, I have trouble forming a narrative. There is a story, of course, one that I’ve been telling for the last two years and will probably tell for the rest of my life. But if I close my eyes and try to play back the movie that was college in my head, I see moments instead.
The day I moved in, with way too many boxes and not enough hangers. The construction paper game. That night we went to Denny’s at four in the morning, and you left your number for the waiter in ketchup. The time we got caught playing pong in our freshman common room, and you chugged all the Andre before Safety and Security came back. My first SAM. The time we watched the sunrise and went to Lou’s. The time there were pumpkins everywhere. Coffee Club (hey Ben). The Ledyard Challenge. My last SAM. Cigars on the Robo balcony. The bells every day. The roar of the bonfire.
It’s hard to separate one moment from the next. I try to remember what I did certain days — Friday of Green Key my freshman year, my first day of classes or the first day of senior year. And I can’t. Some scenes are clear, some aren’t. But what I do remember is the feeling.
The first time I felt it wasn’t during the Dimensions show, my first glimpse of Dartmouth. Not because the fake prospies are a lie, but because you never really get a chance to slow down and breathe it all in. You are always doing something. There’s no time. The first time I felt it was during the end of Trips, when we learned the alma mater. Every word. Every bit of choreography and “spontaneous” addendum that accompanies all the lines. Later, I learned what not to do. Why you shouldn’t stomp when you sing lest the old traditions fail…
It’s the feeling I get every time finals period rolls around, and it’s 3 a.m., and there’s a line of people milling around Novack, checking in with each other. Everyone’s tired, everyone’s stressed, but it’s peaceful, too. You wouldn’t expect it, but there’s a serenity that accompanies what is typically one of the most stressful parts of your term. The eye of the storm. And yet, I still feel it. It’s part pride, part love, part community. It’s Dartmouth.
Yesterday marked the last day of classes. We are done. In 10 days, we are going to sit in rows on the Green in the blazing hot sun (or the rain – this weather is leaving a lot of room for debate) and walk across the stage and shake Phil Hanlon’s hand. In 10 days, we are going to lose this place in a way. It will no longer be our home. But I hope we don’t lose each other. I don’t think we will.
’14s, I love you. Hanover, I love you. And to everybody who is as scared and nervous and thrilled as I am to be graduating, remember this – in your heart, in your soul, you can’t escape Dartmouth. Take her with you when you go.