After years of toil and hard work, freedom is finally around the corner. For many students, it’s a special time in their lives when their futures are most likely set, and they have the luxury of partying in the waiting room of life: second semester senior year. I realize that only about a quarter of students are going through this right now, but it at least happened to all of us in high school. Yet, something doesn’t feel quite right. I’m bored.
As a huge supporter and lover of freedom, I’ve always grappled with freedom’s doppelganger and arch-nemesis, boredom. But now, seven semesters of endless work, late nights and an unyielding sense of anxiety have given way to nothingness. I find myself getting stressed out about two-page response papers because it’s all I have.
If you’re an underclassman, I know what you’re thinking: “Oh no, this poor kid doesn’t have any work to do, how sad.” But one day, you’ll be here, too.
The strange second-semester senior malaise is like the enemy you can’t see. Everything should be right in the world, yet something feels a little off. Maybe it’s the impending graduation and the heightened sense of a collegiate expiration date, but I can’t quite get comfortable in my new empty life.
Perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit. In reality, I’ve been quite busy. Those late stress-filled nights have been my reality for most of the semester. In fact, I turned in my 10-page midterm an hour ago, before I wrote this, and this column was sent in a day late. Somehow in my head, though, I feel like I’ve been doing nothing.
Maybe it’s the people around me. I live with a few guys in the Ross School of Business who have had jobs since last summer, or at least since last semester. I’m not blessed with the comfort of knowing where I’m going to land when the University spits me out in April. But there I am, finding myself going out with them, wondering what to do with my life.
My little diatribe here is probably more for my friends than it is for me. One of my friends spent the first eight weeks of the semester doing nothing. He has his job and his big consultant’s bonus. He has played a lot of online poker and spent countless hours trying to convince me to go to the bar with him six nights a week. I don’t feel bad for him. But, watching him condense nine weeks of learning into three days of cramming made me wonder why.
He has no need to perform well in class – all he needs is a C-minus in atmospheric science to graduate. Hell, he has a job anyway, so I don’t know if he even needs to graduate. The type of people who are blessed with the luxury of absolute freedom now aren’t your average slight underachievers (like myself), they’re the superstars. These are the smartest and hardest working – or possibly the luckiest – kids in your classes. This is the first free time they’ve had in 22 years, and it will probably be the last for another 22.
Do you pack it in? Or do you let your overachiever sneak out and get an A in your class? Do you have an obligation to the University – or even yourself – to get the most out of every second of education while you’re here? Maybe, unless you think the University’s only function is to get you a job. But if you think that, then the University has apparently failed me and the others who don’t have jobs or haven’t gotten into graduate school yet.
At the same time, no faculty member can honestly expect the same commitment out of us students – we’re staring oblivion in the face. That is a bit cynical, but let’s be realistic. I know I’m not the only person going out, all the time, because when I go out I see a bunch of other kids with future drinking problems. There is no real direction for this part of your life. You could be locked in on the dream job you’ve worked for your whole life. Or you could be wondering if that Borders near your parents’ house is still hiring (for the record, I’m pretty sure it is).
Wait a second. I think I figured it out. I’m not bored at all.
I’m fucking scared.
Everyone else is, too. When you hear us complain about having nothing to do, we’re not actually complaining about having nothing to do. We’re terrified. Freedom isn’t boredom; freedom is chaos. After graduation, I go off into the great unknown, which is just as scary the 100-hour-a-week job into which many of your friends are locked. There’s no turning back anymore, there’s only going forward. In two months, everyone around me disappears. I will be alone, and so will they. You won’t matter to me and I won’t matter to you because I won’t be here. My life will have to go on, and so will yours.
You know what? Fuck it. This is the only time I’ve got here, and I’m going to stop pretending I’m bored. If you need me, I’ll be at the bar.
-David Mekelburg was a Daily fall/winter associate news editor in 2007. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.