Commentary

Embrace the Uncertainty

Ido not know where I will be in a year, except that I will not be here. I will not be in this newsroom, where I spend so much of my time amid the clutter of empty cans, stacks of papers, red pens and day-old pizza. I will not be in a Bulfinch classroom, tracing the old desks’ carved graffiti with my fingertips, listening to the floorboards creak under the slightest of movements. I will not be in the library, a ceiling of symbolic engravings and electric chandeliers overhead. I do not know where I will be, except that it will not be Andover, the place I have spent the past four years of my life. Such uncertainty is new and a little bit terrifying. But mostly, the uncertainty of my life—the uncertainty most Seniors are riddled with this time of year—is exciting and empowering. For perhaps the first time in my life, I stand alone and entirely vulnerable to the future. For someone who thrives on to-do lists and carefully planned next steps, it’s—well, it’s something I can’t entirely wrap my head around. The notion that I will be thrust out of this little world, most beautiful for its familiarity, is not so difficult to grasp. It is the not-knowing-what-comes-next, the raw openness to anything, that is foreign to me. And I can’t help but feel my head spin and heart swell at the thought of all the possibilities that lie ahead, all the cities to live in, people to hold and experiences to be had beyond Phillips Academy’s campus bounds. With all the dizzying uncertainty that surrounds our imminent displacement from this academy, opportunity comes along in the form of college brochures, study abroad guides and gap year programs. A whole flurry of decisions demand to be made: Where are you applying? What will you study? Where will you live? What will you become? I, for one, just want to linger in this bed of possibilities a little longer. Wrapped up in this brilliant uncertainty, the sheets are growing warm— and the world out there, decided and sure, seems awfully cold. After all, there is something poetic about the last year at Andover. It hit me with the first snow. I think about where I was last year when the first snow came. I think about the person I was. I see myself now, and I know that our thoughts all run in a continuous flow, but somewhere along the line, mine changed. It all changed. At Andover, become aware of how much can change in the course of one, two, three, four years. This campus, with crisscross paths and the hourly toll of the Bell Tower, has been the steady backdrop for our develo pment into adults. When you realize the extent to which life can change, even amid that constancy, it’s hard not to wonder what will happen when the constants are taken away. I have seven months. As we’ve known from the beginning, our time at Andover, like everything else, will expire. So when it goes, we go too. To where? To what? Such uncertainty is terrifying, thrilling. In Dr. Kane’s English elective, Last Acts, we study writing and death. We talk about the impacts of the two sides of life’s coin, the certainty of death and the uncertainty of what lies beyond, the paradox of living when the game is fixed, the end chosen. As strange, and perhaps morbid, as it sounds, I find myself drawing parallels between the onset of death and the onset of adult life. All senses are heightened by the consciousness that this ride is ending. A moment acquires a different taste when you know it’s the last time you’ll taste it. Seniors are placed in a rare position of awareness; usually, in life, the last time does not announce itself to us. Instead, it occurs without recognition, and we do not make it linger, for our silly faith in “some other time.” Here and now, the Senior class is aware that there is no “other time.” And so everything at Andover acquires the sharp, bittersweet taste of a last kiss, carrying the weight of the years we’ve spent here and the knowledge that this will be our final one. All wills are deepened by the ticking of the clock, which you never notice until time begins to run out. And your musings about the future begin. We cannot seek permanence, no matter how tempting it may be. The constants of my adolescent life—The Phillipian newsroom and the Bulfinch debate room and the friends I greet with kisses, the teachers and the administrators and the sound of my radiator banging through the night— will stay neatly packaged in this pretty little New England campus, where I will return every so often, but not quite often enough. Everything changes. For most of our lives, those changes are gradual, and we are given the luxury of adjustment. But even two months into senior year, I am aware of how quickly the faces, the paths, the colors of the trees, everything will change. We will shift from Andover to the Great Unknown with the simultaneous haste and ease of a quick dissolve scene. Andover has not turned out quite the way I had planned. I guess you can’t really plan it. The path you think you’re taking is rarely the path you’ve taken, and before you realize it you’re a Senior and the world that you’ve built is preparing to see you off to your next home. After a certain point you come to realize that maybe, instead of making lists and projections, you’ve just got to embrace the uncertainty. Juniors, Lowers, Uppers, prepare for the leap but don’t plan it all. I stand on the precipice of my adult life. All my planning and projections, everything from what I will be to where I will be, everything from who I will be to who I will be with, is uncertain. Andover, I want to keep you like the beautiful things Keats promised me would never pass into nothingness. And someday when I hold the memories of this place in an emblematic gold ring, I want to be certain at least of the history I built as I turn to face that big, uncertain future. I do not know where I will be in a year, except that I will not be here. I am relishing every second in between. Jenn Schaffer is a four-year Senior and Editorial Board Chair from Bolingbrook, IL. jschaffer@andover.edu