There are two kinds of senioritis, but the
first isn’t really senioritis at all. It’s what people
think is senioritis, but I’ve had it since sophomore year.
And it’s not the feeling that you’re winding down
somehow, or reaching the end, where you tend to relax and let all
the pieces of your life fall wherever they like, and sometimes
things go well, sometimes they don’t — some people
think that’s senioritis too, but that’s just being
lazy.

Steve Cotner

No, the first kind of senioritis, the kind that probably hits
most people, is where you think the same thing you thought in high
school, if you can remember back that far. It went something like,
“I’m better than this place, this institution with all
these annoying people and its rules and requirements that
don’t work for me because I’m one of a kind, and I
deserve my own freedom to do as I please because I know what I
want.” You don’t think this for the first year or two
of college, because everyone you know has told you that the
University is a world-class institution, and a real experience, and
it will change your life, and you are just so happy to be here.
Also, you are impressed by large numbers like 40,000 and 111,000,
and you think this means you are a part of something large and
impressive.

But then you find out the streets and hallways are not paved
with gold, or yellow, or whatever. You don’t ever find your
ideal community, and you think it is the community’s fault.
You think, “I really need a change,” and so you do
‘“study abroad,” and you go see Stonehenge or the
Louvre or a lion roaring at an elephant at midnight — and
you’re sure that when you get back home you won’t be
the same person. And maybe you’re not, but you still watch TV
and put off your major, and you impress a few professors along the
way, but really you’re just wasting time — you’ll
make your impact later, you figure. And eventually, you stop trying
to make everything just right at this school and decide you need to
move on. This is the point when most people graduate.

But this isn’t senioritis, it’s just not trying.
It’s better than being lazy, because at least you have the
ambition to want something better, but you’re not really
doing anything.

I think there are very few people who understand what a
university is for. Most have probably never been to the special
collections library or looked up the Grad’s newly received
books online just to see what there is. Most people don’t own
a reading chair. They don’t attend guest lectures or listen
to professors give poetry readings. They don’t read much
outside their major, and for their major they don’t read
beyond the syllabus. In short, they don’t seek things out for
themselves if it’s at an academic level. They never become
their own authority.

These people don’t deserve senioritis, and I don’t
think they ever really get it. They get the premature whining
syndrome, but that’s all. Senioritis is an entirely different
thing.

It happens after you’ve understood that your studies were
the most important part of your life for the past four years, not
just something you did when it wasn’t summer, and then you
make a life-changing commitment because of them — maybe grad
school, maybe something else — and all of a sudden you get
the strangest feeling of superiority. You’ll go to a house
party and look at all the freshmen and sophomores wearing tight
shirts and hovering around the keg, and you realize how confused
they all still are, how they still have no idea what they’re
doing with their lives. You think how you’ve already
forgotten more than most of them will ever care to know, and you
feel very old.

There’s something that happens after college too —
the rest of your life. But this isn’t such a scary thing to
think about if you get to this level of senioritis. You don’t
expect some big change to come over you all at once anymore: You
realize that from here on out it’s just you and your work,
and all that’s left is to do it. You can still have
adventures, of course. You can quit grad school and search India
for a maharishi if you want. But you understand that dreams like
this aren’t so good for you anymore. There’s no need to
waste all your time and energy trying to live like Hemingway or
resurrect the Beat generation.

Life is more like the stoic “Old Man and the Sea,”
or a good existentialist movie by Woody Allen. Eventually we find
that some things work for us, and we go with them. It’s like
Alvy Singer’s joke in Annie Hall: “This guy goes to a
psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, my brother’s crazy. He
thinks he’s a chicken.’ And the doctor says,
‘Well, why don’t you turn him in?’ And the guy
says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’ ” It might
not mean much when you’re a freshman, but you’ll get it
by the time you’re out.

Cotner can be reached at
“mailto:cotners@umich.edu”>cotners@umich.edu.

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