Senior Reflection

Claire Jiang ’24 (Editor-In-Chief, 143rd Board) in Opinions | May 26, 2024

I’ve always been a materialist: in seventh grade, I filled three Wegmans shopping bags with candy wrappers for a “to be determined” art project for a “to be determined” future date. During my time on the Edinburgh Fringe Harkness trip, I accepted every poster and theatre booklet handed by street buskers, stuffing them into my suitcase to fly back to the States. After each Periwig production, I would sneak a few small props back home, storing them among all my other objects of sentimental value. I could never bear to let go of something, not because of its aesthetic or material value, but simply in fear of losing the memories that accompanied the object. 

In April of this year, I finally decided to do a purge and learn to let go of a number of things. Inspired by a favorite YouTuber’s videos, I embarked on the Mins (minimalist) Challenge. On the first day, you choose one item to put aside. The second day, two items, the third, three items, and so on and so forth up to day 30. Over 500 items are identified in the process—it’s a decluttering method, but also a way to evaluate what physical items hold importance in one’s life.

In the beginning, I worked in a frenzy, collecting scraps and pieces I could easily part with. I rummaged through old schoolwork, took off shirts and jeans from hangers, and stacked piles of books for donation. It felt just like going down memory lane. As dramatic as it might sound, releasing one emotional souvenir after the other also felt like giving away tiny pieces of myself. 

Still, I felt a certain sense of safety knowing that despite everything I parted with, I still held onto my journals. These were the pages that recorded the very core of my time at Lawrenceville, the best of times, the worst of times—a memorial to the age of high school and teenage foolishness. 

As opposed to conversation or self-talk, writing has been the most effective way for me to hold onto the past. However, as my friend Thalia so aptly wrote, “Reflection can romanticize or corrupt the past.” And once I began to re-read my entries, I started to realize most of them were written at my lowest points: when I was “stumbling through life,” feeling “overwhelmed / stressed / volatile,” “scared of trying,” and “living in a fever dream,” (as noted in 2023). Words have always built a haven in the most tumultuous of times. But I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that my commemorations of Lawrenceville were mostly in the negative.

 If journaling—this incredibly personal form of reflection—tipped the balance of memory to one side, would my time here always seem that way? What would hold the other memories—cartwheeling and catching chicken and making tea at the Big Red Farm, Sunday calls, fly jokes and banter in RMG, the reassurance in the squeeze of a hand backstage before a show, the late-night Lawrence chats, tearing out my hair before a math test, and long conversations where I fall more in love with this campus, my friends, my mentors, these moments?

We build small monuments to mark remembrance, hoping that they might last forever. Yet nothing can withstand time, the metaphorical wind and rain that chips at etched words in stone and concrete. Of course, I am still young and not very wise, but I have already experienced this—when memories fade away or are condensed into a few sentences that I repeat over and over again. The other details—those gut feelings, the exact words exchanged, people’s names and faces—are smoothed into a haze. Some memories are lost to time, but many others are worth keeping. 

Even as I throw out all the stuff tucked into my room—dried flowers, stickers and toys taken from the doctor’s office when I was in fourth grade, old magazine clippings, clothes that no longer fit, pens that ran out of ink, and even old journals—I know that the true records of my time here at Lawrenceville are the people. Even after graduation, I plan to stay in contact with my friends and teachers, an extended tending to my favorite moments with them, no matter how many text messages, calls, and email drafts this might take! And for those of us who think that leaving Lawrenceville with regrets means regretting the ‘what-ifs’ forever, it’s never too late, especially for the people and causes that matter. No matter how much we try to record the past, there really is no day like today. 

We are stewards of our own memories, and the people around us are our records. We don’t necessarily need to have a moment forever ingrained in stone or on paper in order to pay homage. We can extend those moments into the present. Yes, it’s cliché, but it truly is not about holding onto the memory itself that makes it important, but the connections we might have made in that moment.