The graduating senior’s dilemma: Keep it or toss it?

May 13, 2022

Standing on the front steps of Silverstein Hall, a beaming Avantaea Siefke admires one of the best presents a graduating senior could receive before packing up and driving toward the future.

“My goal is to get all my belongings out of here in one carload,” says Avantaea Siefke.

The silver bracelet, inscribed with one of her favorite quotes —“She believed she could, so she did” — is a gift from her bosses in the Provost’s Office for being a Distinguished Leadership Award recipient. Proudly worn on Siefke’s right wrist, the bracelet satisfies three criteria for thoughtfulness during an emotional and chaotic final week for Denison University seniors: It’s meaningful, it’s personal, and — almost as important — it won’t take up a square inch of space in her 2012 navy blue Toyota Corolla.

“My goal is to get all my belongings out of here in one carload,” says the Columbus, Ohio, resident.

Siefke and her fellow Class of 2022 graduates look to join a distinguished line of Denison movers and shakers who help shape society and influence thinking.

But until 7 p.m. on May 14 — the university’s Commencement Day deadline for vacating residence halls — these seniors are simply movers: leaders of tomorrow trying to wedge flatscreen televisions, furniture, and stereo systems into the backs of SUVs.

“I’ve already been packing and my partner has come down and taken stuff,” says Mia Colbert, of Shaker Heights, Ohio. “I’m trying to walk off the stage (with my diploma) and walk off the hill.”

What the seniors take with them requires one last multiple-choice test. With all the stuff they’ve acquired, they must examine each item and decide:

Pitch it? Keep it? Sell it? Donate it?

While Siefke knows her bracelet and leadership award will make the trip home, the bedroom in her second-story dorm is filled with difficult choices.

“My friends and I were talking about this,” she says. “It’s a confusing moment when you are trying to decide whether to throw away Denison shirts. Which ones do I keep from the 30 or 40 I’ve collected from my four years at Denison? I haven’t been able to get myself to throw any away.”

Siefke and other seniors agree the easiest choices involve items that hold sentimental value or great memories of Denison. Christian Rios is keeping an environmental studies textbook as a reminder of his first 100% on a midterm. Henry Brooks is taking with him his senior thesis and a stuffed hammerhead shark a fellow student crocheted for him. Sueshin Moon, a President’s Medal recipient, treasures a signed card from professors in the philosophy department, thanking her for serving as editor of the Episteme journal.

“I don’t keep a lot of cards or letters because many of them say the same thing,” Moon says. “But this card came at me differently because all the professors took their time to write about me, even the ones who never taught me.”

One of the best stories from Senior Week comes from students who lived in the Kappa Sigma House as first-year students. Quinn Wagner and five of her friends created a time capsule, filling it with pictures and letters they wrote to each other and themselves four years ago.

This week, they returned to the wooded area behind the house where they buried the capsule and unearthed it, unleashing a torrent of memories.

“We had discovered old Polaroids and funny memorabilia,” Wagner says. “I wrote one letter that encompassed my relationship with everybody. I’m keeping that.”

People who have never set foot on campus also can be beneficiaries of student move-out days. The university works with Goodwill of Licking County to place giant donation pods near the dorms, says Carianne Meng, senior director of residential and communities housing. Throughout the week, the storage lockers fill with everything from microwaves to boxed fans to mini fridges. Some students will see an appealing item and retrieve it before the trucks haul away the pods.

“Sometimes, I like to go shopping in there,” Siefke says.

The university also encourages students to donate their remaining non-perishable food to the Denison Food Pantry or the Food Pantry Network of Licking County. The rest of the unwanted items get pitched in the giant green dumpsters strategically placed outside of dorms. Twinkle lights, posters, plastic totes, bedding, and plants are among the most discarded student belongings, Meng says, along with all the “liquor bottles they thought were the height of sophisticated décor.”

The most frantic hours of Senior Week will come between 2 to 7 p.m. on Commencement Day as the last-minute movers make the parking lots around the dorms look like an “ant farm,” says one longtime Denison employee. There also are seniors who leave behind memorable surprises for the cleaning crews.

“My first year at Denison (2013), I received a call that a student left a bearded lizard in their room,” Meng says. “When I went to take a look, I realized the student left a full aquarium, heat rock and lamp, mealworms and the lizard — the whole nine yards.” (Just for the record: With few exceptions, no animals outside of fish are permitted in university buildings.)

Not surprisingly, the items almost no seniors leave behind are graduation tassels.

On a sun-splashed Wednesday, Siefke sits on the Silverstein Hall steps and reflects on her time at Denison. As a community advisor, she seems to know everyone entering the building by name.

Wagner walks past and tells her story about the time capsule. Siefke smiles as she listens to the details of the uncovered Polaroids, and how the lives of the six friends have evolved over the past four years.

Soon, Siefke will travel to Akron, Ohio, to start work in public relations for a North America chain of family campgrounds. She will take a few Denison shirts with her to remind of the shared experiences and her growth.

As the two graduating seniors say goodbye, Siefke takes her left hand and gently adjusts her new bracelet.

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