College has been the best time so far, but better times are coming

Ariel Hoffmaier Apr 30, 2017
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It’s hard to describe the last few weeks of senior year. You’re still a student, drowning in the final projects and tests that stand between you and graduation. Your "senioritis" makes it harder to do any schoolwork. All the effort required (and even your final grade) seems inconsequential compared to the flashing headlights of “THE FUTURE” coming up quick in your rear window. Your family is definitely showing up for graduation on the twentieth of May. Hotels have been booked and restaurants have been reserved. But in order to have a graduation at all, you probably have to pass at least one of your current classes. So you beat down the senioritis and push through your homework, knowing all the while that this may be your last finals week ever.

It’s hard to describe the last few weeks of senior year without the word “bittersweet.” Don’t get me wrong — I’ll be thrilled to say goodbye to the endless cycle of deadline stress and work that always follows you home. I won’t miss Craig Street cuisine four times a week, mandatory classes that don’t interest me, biannual moving ordeals into and out of housing, or awkward campus encounters with people I’ve got history with.

And like many fellow seniors, I’m looking forward to what’s coming next. Most of my friends are eagerly anticipating moving to exciting new cities and starting exciting new jobs or graduate schools. Even to people like me, who haven’t yet settled all their post-grad plans, this is definitely — to use the cliché — the start of a new chapter. I haven’t read that chapter yet, but the mystery and potential of it is thrilling. It’s invigorating like confronting the void is invigorating. I guess by “invigorating” I also mean to say “terrifying.” The last few weeks of senior year are terrifying, and no one’s really talking about it yet.

I feel that, to some degree, we’ve all internalized the idea that college is the “best time of your life.” That stupid little mind worm is everywhere, from movies about college superstars whose dreams never panned out, to the wistful sigh of your late-twenties career counselor who “remembers those days,” to your grandma’s joke that “it’s all downhill from here.”

As someone who can say college has been the best time of my life so far, I understand the sentiment behind this idea. College is where I grew into my identity. Here, I discovered a passion for politics and filmmaking. Here, I produced my proudest intellectual and creative work. Here, I had my “bisexual awakening.” College is where I met most of my dearest friends in the world, where I took advantage of opportunities my high school self never imagined, and where — the legend holds true — I had so much f***ing fun.

But no matter how much you’ve enjoyed college, even if it’s been the best time of your life yet, hearing that you’re running out of the best days of your life ever is… well, it sucks. It sucks, firstly, because you can’t slow down or rewind time. College will end regardless of how much you want to hold on to it. It sucks, secondly, because it paints a pretty bleak picture of the remaining 50 plus years of our lives. Does our culture really have such a low opinion of life that it insists everyone peaks before you get married, have kids, or even start your career? It sucks, overall, because it encourages people to give up on a fulfilling adult life before they’ve truly begun it.

The idea that college is the best time of your life not only sucks, but is also incorrect. Studies have shown that although average life satisfaction peaks first at 23, it more or less plateaus through your thirties and then peaks again in your late 60s through early 70s. Business Insider additionally cites peak “happiness with your body” at 74 and peak “psychological well-being” at 82. Middle age may suck a little more, but that’s also when you’re most likely to win a Nobel Prize, earn your highest salary, understand people’s emotions, and — surprise, surprise — rock at arithmetic. Evidently then, we college seniors have plenty of life to look forward to.

These statistics are a comforting balm to the sting of the “best time of your life” myth, but they don’t fully relieve the “bitter” in “bittersweet.” What people haven’t been talking about yet is the difficulty of leaving the more-or-less good life that you know for a potentially good life that’s still a mystery. Even the most optimistic senior in the world is about to let go of most of the positive fixtures of their college life.

Gone are the student organizations that gave you community, the lectures and events that broadened your mind, the professors who inspired and encouraged you, the first place of your own that really felt like home. Gone is your support network of simple, easy friendships. Your friends are all moving to different cities, and you suspect that friendship will never be so easy again. It’s a lot to lose, when you really let yourself think about it.

I’m not sure I have any grand conclusions for this, my very last of many Tartan articles. Again, the last few weeks of senior year are difficult to describe because it’s difficult to experience. The sheer weight and variety of emotions involved — simplified by the umbrella “bittersweet” — can be so overwhelming that it’s easier to just talk about the hassle of moving out or plans to party during Senior Week. But I think it’s crucial that we seniors take a moment to address the bittersweet head-on. The sweet: we’re heading toward the best years of our lives. The bitter: this is goodbye.