As finals encroach, the true colors of each class year always shine through. Freshmen still feel the novelty of college life, and their naïveté breezes pungently through the air. When they go home, it will be nothing more than a nice reprieve from what they think is a lot of work. Homesickness will disappear, and when they come back in January, they will be open and eager to party, ready to pick up right where they left off. College as a place for acquiring knowledge hasn’t set in yet.
Sophomores are beginning to know work. They have begun to carve a niche for themselves and know the awkwardness of making eye contact with someone who lived on their floor freshman year and walking right by without a word. They spend the majority of the week in the library or wherever they study, but still find plenty of time to abandon backpacks on the weekends. They are starting to learn something, but only in a state of sheltered reverie.
Junior year comes without warning. The momentum gained at the end of sophomore year is lost to summer vacation shenanigans as the realization that you are halfway through with college is internalized. August schedules are filled with upper level classes and too many extracurricular activities because of false pride in the deluded sense of grand accomplishment the former realization provides. By December, half of the class stagnates in perpetual foolishness while half is ready to evolve and take on real challenges. The end of the year marks a real accomplishment.
Senior year is shrouded in the mist of myth. Some students have plans and are ready to graduate, and some have no idea what they’re doing in May. Some are not ready to give up the immaturity of previous years, and some are never on campus, already working. Some are taking their most challenging semester, while still others have given in to the seductive dust of senioritis. But seniors all possess an I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude that comes out readily. They are prepared for something, but couldn’t care less what it is.
Despite your year of study, you are constantly in a state of liminality. College is one big ritual, each year another stage of disorientation and ambiguity on the road to “graduate” status. Perhaps this is why things like high school and college are so challenging. They are marathons against time, and the question becomes how much confusion you can endure.
Time is strange, and I don’t think the disorientation ever stops. Life could be viewed as one big ritual. We are thrust into the world to die: birth puts us in the threshold; death allows us to pass through the door. Anyone who thinks otherwise is just complicating the only simple certainty of humanity. I doubt I need to warn against the dangers of fatalism, but how does one overcome such a ludicrous destiny?
I’ve often looked at life like a grand ball at some swanky English castle. All men are completing the ritual of the damned, but smaller dance circles emerge. One group is doing a tango, another waltzes, another does ballet and another starts a freeform movement to the beat of the music. These circles pop up frequently and begin to overcrowd the universal dance floor, but every now and then it feels like you’re dancing with yourself.
Seen another way, the dance floor is earth, the music is anything that stirs emotion, birth is the dance of hope and death is the dance of the absurd. The individual dances that emerge are what we do to detract from the reality that the reason we are here is to die. One could call any other way of thinking grand delusion.
One could also call everything I’ve just said abhorrent and disgusting. But I ask you: take a look in the mirror and think about yourself, what you’re doing here and why you’re doing it. What do you see? What did you once see? What do you want to see?
We have just entered the holiday season. As I observe all of the freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors loosely act in the manners posited above in anticipation of winter break, I really wonder what the point is. Presumably, we are willingly subjecting ourselves to the ridiculousness of college for a better future, however we define better. But what future? Is the promise of material wealth and social status any consolation for impending death?
When I finished this column and read it for the first time I thought I should rewrite it. Then I thought no, why sugarcoat it—especially when there are reasons to keep dancing? If everything ends no matter what, why not enjoy it? Why not help someone along the way? Why not make the dance floor more inhabitable for more people?
Scientific strides to benefit medicine, publishing a paper criticizing a government with the goal of improving it, studying human behavior or engineering new ways to further develop human capabilities are important. But holidays, family and friendship are also important. Love is important. Without other people—without love—everything is useless.
I guess the point of this column is to say that finals are important, but not really. As exams stress you out and sleep is an alien concept, have coffee with a friend, call your mom just to say you love her, kiss your significant other, go outside and scream. These things are important.
But remember that it’s okay to find yourself dancing with yourself from time to time. Remember that through your vitality, someone will eventually hear the music and join you.
Jacob Martin is a weekly opinion columnist. He wishes everyone happy holidays. “So let’s sink another drink, ’cause it’ll give me time to think, if I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance, and I’ll be dancing with myself.”—Billy Idol