Ending With a Whimper
The Languishing Last Days of the Senior Class
Star Trek ended its final season last week and the closing down of the USS Enterprise seemed as fitting a way as any to usher out the Class of 1994. Hardly a trekkie, I am nevertheless, quite easily seduced by the fantastic, especially if the temptress comes equipped with transporter beams or with phasers set on stun. So the ending of Star Trek was an event for me, something that meritted a mental paper clip, something to plan a day around. It caught me at the right time, too. I had finished my final exam in Matter in the Universe just a day before, and although I had done my best to ignore the class for as much of the semester as possible, my final week of studying had filled my head with a welter of black holes, bent time and astral planes. I was academically ready to watch and receive whatever the sons of the Gene Roddenberry were positing as the trek to end all treks. I even had the gall to guess at the cause of the Enterprise's misfortune (I was wrong; Cores are quantitative approaches to knowledge after all, and if Data was stumped for most of the show, clearly I would be stumped for all of it).
The show was touching and fiercely understated. What a good ending is supposed to be. Like an actor in a play who quietly leaves the stage after a sublime performance before the audience can erupt into applause, the show closed gracefully, without heralding or fanfare, bang or whimper. In the final scene, the seven crew members who had meant most to the show--Jean Luc, Deanna Troi, Whorf, Data, Geordi, Commander Riker, and Dr. Crusher--sat around a table after escaping their hairiest adventure ever, playing cards and talking over life. It was an elegant exit and the essence of good art, leaving me, and I'm sure all watching, wanting more.
And the same wistful, "longing for more" that I felt then--perhaps Jean--Luc suddenly breaking character and inviting us to continue the adventure in our own lives, or maybe a '90s anachronism telling us they know we're watching them, or perhaps some final note after the credits, thanking us for our loyalty over the years-that same wistful feeling is the sort of thing I feel now as life at Harvard winds to its close. But I don't want grace and elegance; I want a loud and raucous send-off to give meaning to the four years of living here in Cambridge. After all, they've only explored new worlds; I've bee at Harvard for three years.
But none of that is happening, now; neither loud nor graceful these last days of languishing. And any farewell to this place has to be found outside of the "senior events" the University recycles year for our final enjoyment. I might have guessed from finals period that the end of the year would prove an insufficient capstone. Presently enough, this year's Quad Howl was a travesty. Since sophomore year bonfires and spontaneous tackle football have been standards during the primal yell. Big rubber water balloon throwers, streakers shaped like big rubber water balloons, and reams of toilet paper, have been reliable staples every year. But they were in pitifully short supply this time around. I had purchased throat lozenges days before in anticipation of being hoarse from shouting "your momma" jokes and cracks like "your house is disconnected" at the top of my lungs. The pack is still unopened on my desk. Hardly 50 people made it out to an event that used to draw hundreds. It was nowhere near loud, and hardly even a whimper.
And the way people are leaving--students and faculty alike--makes the end of the year even more disappointing. Since last week, the school has been disappearing in patches, and has taken away with its slouchy ending the chance for a graceful exit. Every hour, clumps of a graceful exit. Every hour, clumps of people vanished, bags and boxes in tow. I was reminded of a story I learned in Sunday school about the way that grace comes: "Two men working in a field, one shall be taken the other will be left, two women drawing water form the earth, one shall be taken the other will be left." It was like a transporter beam let loose, devouring people at will and at random. Off to Hills for two hours: three people on my floor have gone. Off to work in morning two more have left. To the dining hall for dinner, the last half of my floor completely wiped out. All without a trace. Just empty rooms left unlocked. Not even some Sony discman or scientific calculator mistakenly left behind for me to remember them by.
But as though the filing out of junior and sophomore friends wasn't bad enough, it seems like half of the senior class is gone as well, vacationing in Europe or the Cape, searching for housing in New York, or jobs in LA, cleaning strange toilets for dorm crew. The lie was that after everybody else had departed we would have the place to ourselves to reminisce. We do indeed have the place to ourselves, but we are hardly reminiscing. Because I realize that June 9, the "bang" in the year's end has more to do with Harvard than me, I think what I want is a huge mandatory party where all my friends (and enemies) will get together and hang out for a while. To chat, without worry, around a huge card table and talk over life.
W. Cinque Henderson Jr. '94 is a history and literature concentrator living in North House.