Air conditioning was blasting in our van of nine senior women, cooling the Santa Fe, N.M., scenery that passed by as we sang along to our mix CD. Just days earlier, we had been leafing frantically through Norton anthologies and rehearsing our thesis defenses. Now the sky could not be more blue, or the road more open.
From Las Vegas to North Carolina's Outer Banks to a service trip in New Orleans, seniors have added the "Dead Week" vacation as a ritual preface to the Reunions and Commencement calendar. These trips often encompass large and extended circles of friends, as four years' worth of classes, meals, and dorm life have connected students from all walks of campus. Alex Ripp '08 reflected that her trip to an island off the coast of Maine with a group of 15, including many friends and friends, succeeded unexpectedly in allaying graduation anxiety.
"I got to know new people over Dead Week, which was not how I had perceived it would be but was actually a really exciting thing," Ripp said. "It felt like a beginning instead of an end, in a way. We kayaked, played tennis and board games, hiked, cooked, and stargazed. I haven't felt that relaxed or connected to nature in a while. It was pretty magical."
While offering a last deep breath before the busyness of Reunions and graduation, Dead Week trips form a strange continuity with seniors' activity once back on campus, as every moment seems to draw the class closer together. Few would dare belt out "Don't Stop Believin' " underneath Blair Arch alone, but a thousand voices strong, the Class of 2008 became Princeton's most exuberant a capella group for a night. Under Reunions tents, we bridged gaps between classes and realized how little changes from year to year. David Baumgarten '06, a second-year student at Harvard Law School, shared his half-serious ambition to form an eating club with his law school friends. Even as we graduate to different futures, the Commencement calendar ensures that Tigers leave knowing that together, we are stronger.
The thesis-writing process, though a mark of our shared experience across departments and intellectual passions, demanded solitary hours communing with books more than with Facebook.com, and silent concentration instead of group problem-solving. This may be why, a few weeks after theses were turned in, three seniors had a mischievous request. They sent e-mails around to find students with four-person Firestone carrels who might be willing to let them stay there for the night – a feat that would involve carefully evading the nightly carrel inspections that prevent anyone from staying in the library past 11:45 p.m.
Why would anyone want to return to the place that most of us vowed never to enter again, not even to prepare for finals or senior comprehensives? Behind this idea was a certain logic: a craving to rewrite an intensely individual experience as a communal one. What would happen if one took those normally silent, book-filled carrels and filled them with laughter and DVD entertainment for a night? The seniors anticipated a feeling of victory and freedom akin to the binding of the thesis itself.
In the spirit of carpe diem that seemed to define our last weeks together, seniors seized the library, the arch rotation, and finally the forbidden FitzRandolph Gate. At Princeton, we had branched off into eating clubs, residential colleges, fraternities and sororities, and academic concentrations. We were segmented into Firestone carrels (and may B-12-H-8 be good luck for its next inmate). But at Commencement, we were laughing to the Latin salutatory speech in unison, cued by the "hic laudite" printed exclusively in our programs so that our parents weren't in on the joke. After four years that drew upon our determination and talents as individuals, we had come to understand the value in our unity.