This year, some of the people who’ve brought the biggest smiles to my face are people to whom I’ve never said a word. They’re my fellow fifth-year seniors, most of whom I remember from living at Markley. For whatever reason, we’re still around. Whether finishing master’s programs or engineering degrees, tying up loose ends or writing for The Michigan Daily – we’re still around.
Identifying a fellow super-senior is gratifying for largely selfish reasons – chief among them my joy that there are others of my creed at which to direct the obnoxious questioning us fifth-years are subject to, but gratifying nonetheless. When they say that college is the best four years of your life, they aren’t kidding. You really start to realize this around your fifth year at the University.
Your first lesson comes during Welcome Week, that magical period between arriving in town and starting class. Welcome Week 2006, my last as an undergraduate, was bittersweet, more bitter than sweet – the kind of week that made me glad to have more promising prospects than the house party scene. Of course there were the great moments synonymous with Welcome Week: cocktails with friends who’ve been gone to New York or D.C. rounding out their resumes all summer, the telling of tall tales that ensues, and the catching-up process that never seems to take more than a few minutes between true friends. That part was awesome. I’ll miss that.
But before long, the dreaded questions came rolling in, and the best week of the year had me wishing for April rather than truly enjoying the “victory lap” of a fifth year. Before long, I was answering the questions you expect to be asked as a fifth-year, but don’t feel you should have to explain because anyone who needs to ask wasn’t told for a reason. I thought you graduated? Why aren’t you in New York/Chicago/D.C.? Are you gonna be here forever, or what? Within seconds, happy-to-see-you becomes nice-seeing-you, and you make your move, preferring meeting new people to being second-guessed. The typical Welcome Week welcome-back/good-to-see-you conversation left me looking for the nearest exit or suddenly in need of a refill.
Prepared as I was to face such queries, I was nonetheless shocked by their sheer volume and the pushiness of those asking them. Worse than the questions themselves – which are often innocent if not well-meaning at their base – are the rampant assumptions behind them: that returning for a fifth year is some sign of failure, of poor planning, of a Peter Pan-like desire to never grow up and of one’s inability to leave college life for the Real World.
While it’s a boost to the ego to know that at some level people have high expectations for you, it does make one wonder why people who know so little feel completely justified in presuming to know someone else’s future. What’s worse, some people feel justified and don’t feel out of place in airing their assumptions vocally. The problem here is not that anyone’s expectations are, per se, unrealistic or lofty – who cares what they think, really, because what do they know – it’s that such comments don’t reflect that everyone has his or her own time table. Everyone matures differently and discovers their interests at different points. This takes some of us five years.
Today most people’s parents know better than to plan out their child’s course, and trust their offspring to make the right decisions for themselves, since their offspring are the ones who must live with them. But the Well-Meaning Interrogators of the world – relying on little more than a random assortment of facts and truisms about what “people your age” should be doing – not only have your life tracked out. They actually expect answers as to what you’re doing here and why you’re not there – “there” meaning wherever it is someone who graduated high school in 2002 should be – yet. The nerve.
But take heart, fellow superseniors. The carping we confront daily, which will hopefully subside once the novelty of the new school year wears off, often has much more to do with the person carping than with us. You talk to alumni and a lot of them wish they could come back, and would if they could. Enjoy your victory lap.
Dickson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.