Quote card by Opinion.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding junior year. Most people will tell you it’s the best year of college — at least my friends and family did. I, for one, am all for the hype. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to come back to college than I was at the end of this summer. Nevertheless, junior year comes with its fair share of baggage, and as we tackle the first few weeks of classes, there are two things I — and I am sure many juniors — simply cannot escape: decisions and expectations.

“Your generation will define the future.” I’ve been hearing this spiel for years now, but never before has it felt so real. Recruiting, internships and return offers are what all conversations eventually lead to. The question of, “what do you want to do?” has never been as daunting as it is today, because a simple “I like computer science” or “I’m not sure” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Most of my summer was spent contemplating how I’d spend next summer. Where will my internship be, how will I apply for an internship, if I’ll even get an internship. At almost every turn, there seem to be two diverging paths, a fork in the road, and it just feels like any wrong decisions at this point might end up being too perilous, too difficult to go back on. What helps is that the two paths are pretty clearly marked. Often, there’s the easy path, and there’s the right path. And most of the time, I have absolutely no idea which one to pick.

We’re faced with the decision of which path to take all the time. On March 25, 2020, the Indian government sent the entire country into lockdown in response to COVID-19. Around five months later, when those restrictions were lifted, everyone in the country, myself included, was left with a choice: to wear a mask or not. I don’t think most Indians picked the right path. The world was faced with the same choice, and again, not everybody brought their A-game, with many choosing to take the easy, more comfortable way out. Today, more than a thousand days after the first recorded case of the disease, and with cases still on the rise in certain areas, I see fewer masks than ever before.

In less than 100 days, the most watched sporting event in the world, the FIFA World Cup, will take place in Qatar, a country whose human rights violations, especially in the build-up to this tournament, are appalling. Yet, 32 teams that supposedly stand for equality will be participating in it, broadcasting companies that vow to show the truth will presumably cover the entire event without mention of these violations and 3.5 billion people will probably watch the tournament from start to finish. 

I don’t begrudge any of these people or what they’re going to do come November when the World Cup kicks off. I know that it’s the one thing that will get me through EECS projects and midterms when the temperature drops, the recruitment cycle is in full flow and I am plowing through Leetcode “hard” questions. But it’s not right, and I know it. Despite everything, I feel like I am taking the easy way out, again. When I found myself stuck in this seesaw of internal conflict, I learned one more thing about junior year: it gives you ample opportunity to do the right thing.

Don’t let the prospect of the so-called “most important year of your life” prevent you from seeing what junior year is actually about. It’s about furthering friendships you have made over the past two years, not neglecting them. It’s about taking on leadership positions at student organizations you have devoted so much of your time to, not leaving them behind as underclassmen memories. It’s about working a job on campus that makes you happy and also makes you a little bank, not constantly worrying about the job after college. The things that made you happy and had you performing at your highest level for the past two years will be there for you in your third, as they have been for me so far this semester.

The harder I look, the more difficult it is to find examples of people picking the right path, but I know they’re out there. Just as it is down to us to decide what constitutes as right and what doesn’t, it is also in our hands to have faith that the right path will eventually yield results, and I genuinely believe that.

If junior year is going to be eight months of peak college life, with all its ups and downs, all its moments of doubt and ecstasy, then bring it on. I can’t wait. All I hope is that when I look back at it in May, I will not have picked the easy path every time. And for the times I do, I hope I will have had the self-awareness to rectify my path in time, because if there’s one thing I want to leave you with, it’s this: it’s never too late to stand for what is right. It is never too late to pick the right path.

Rushabh Shah is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at rushabhk@umich.edu.