You know you’re a senior when you roll out of your laboratory looking like this, remembering that a presentation is due tomorrow and you haven’t finished your reading of classical Greek rhetoric:
You also begin to realize that all college students become monsters about midterm, doubting not only their sanity, but their major, their minor, their purpose in life…This is not unusual. This is an academic reality. This is how you survive.
So what does this mean if you are an underclassman (-er, person)?
It means that – yes, it does get worse before it gets better. Stress takes you from that sultry Freshman Vampire stage, to the howlin’ Sophomore Wolf-person, to the Junior just-get-it-over-with Zombie… Until by some miracle of academia, you emerge from the caverns of your last semester looking and feeling like Frankie… A little bit of this, a little bit of that, quotes from Plato stitched into your underwear and a biography of Louisa May Alcott tucked into your book bag, wondering who the hell am I, and what happened to my plans?
Ah, plans… The unmaking of an upperclassman (-er, person).
Not to worry though, the brain cells will grow back. The best part is that when they do, they have a new nucleus of perspective. You see the world differently after a few 3000-level classes; more differently still after the 4000’s… This, my friends, is why you are in college. Not to land that great job which probably no longer exists, but to understand why the day to day stresses are just exercises in psychology, and that humanity – like sedimentary rocks – just changes form but never completely goes away. You learn to pick your battles. You learn that the proof of evolution is in your check-out line at work, that philosophy means never having to say you’re sorry, and that every problem has a solution – even if you didn’t take enough higher math to know the formula. It means that no matter what box Life or enemies puts you in, there is a way out. It is your job to figure out the next step. As I lumber about the halls of my university, muttering unintelligible grunts of angst and pondering the Nichomachean Ethics, I realize that this is the last time I will get to do this. The realization is bittersweet; I’ve been trying to graduate with a four-year degree for thirty years, bouncing from a community college to a junior college to this one. I’ve been taking classes around unsympathetic full time jobs for most of that time…lost a few because of it; lost opportunities because of it; lost friends and relationships because of it. But hear me roar:
It has been worth every minute; it has been worth every penny.
Education is not about promises. It is about self-improvement. You may not have time for all of the assignments, all of the homework, all of the readings, the presentations, the journals, the reader responses…But if you don’t do them, you’ve lost the knowledge they had to teach you. You owe it to yourself to slow down…enjoy the horror.
Darn tootin’ it’s busy work. And if you think college is busy, just wait until you have a kid…or two jobs…or health issues… or some curious mix of the above. College teaches you how to make minutiae stay minutiae… It teaches you how to sublimate those annoying detailed tasks at work that make work work yet get them done with accuracy and finesse. It may not keep you out of therapy, but it will teach you that you need therapy when you do. It will show you how to research any problem, how to keep turning Life’s Rubik’s cube until you find a solution because it’s out there. It will teach you the boldness you need in the face of sheer terror to turn those blocks until the colors line up…
How does a Frankensenior know this? Maybe because I am a senior senior…I have been out there in real life…gotten tangled up in the barbed wire of relationships and jobs gone bad. Frankie and I can compare scars. And the best thing I did for myself was going back to college… challenging myself to keep up with the quicker minds of young people, belly-flopping into the technology pool… It made me realize that who I thought I was back in my teens and twenties was right.
I should have stayed loyal to my dreams.
This is how you grow up to live the life that you wanted. You don’t give up – especially on yourself. And if you lose track of that person you were, that child who believed all things were possible, then you need to find a way to get him or her back. For me that was school. For another maybe it is going after a certification, or learning how to throw pots, to garden, to bake bread, to build space shuttles. I’m saying if you are a young Vampire, fold your cape neatly in your bureau drawer – you need to keep it for later. If you are now the Mummy, so covered in Life’s bandages that you can’t see your way out, you have to get the bandages off and the explorers out of your pyramid.
Life is meant to be lived; not imitated.
I have loved my time at my university… Even now when one project’s revision is turning my hair a whole new shade of grey… I have reconnected with myself, with my writing. I have found the stamina to keep plugging away, to push the negative leeches out of my circle, to keep trying. I write stories, I submit them. I don’t let rejection stop me. I don’t let revision stop me. I welcome scary opportunities and know that I am once again the captain of my ship, for better or worse.
This is what college is for: It teaches you the skills to cope with what Life is going to throw at you. It teaches you to think. On your own. In a vacuum. In space…where nobody can hear you scream…. It teaches you how to make your dreams real, or how to find out. It then makes you realize there are no stupid questions, only stupid people who will not ask them…Those are the people who forfeit their happiness.
Whether one goes to college or not, in the end we all become Frankenstein’s monsters. Life mangles us. It rips half our souls from our bodies and tells us to “get over it.” It’s your choice whether you love the scars or despise them, if you can plug in the bolts, or scowl at security screenings. My best friend just lost a new husband…I am a writer, spitting distance from my writing degree and I don’t know what words to say. But I know that we can get through this. I know that between all the midterms and finals and wondering what comes next, that I have time for whatever is needed to be done. I know this because school has taught me about prioritizing my time, made me numb to deadlines that I cannot help but be aware of.They are goals in the sand. I’m the one with the stick.