Quarter-life crisis: The sorta-bearable lightness of Senior Spring

If you’re about to graduate in May, you already know: your hide is glossed like a fresh, crisp apple, shining with sweet potential. And those of you who’re still snug in your cozy and bohemian Ivory Tower, you’re closer to ripening than you realize.

Each student’s inevitable harvest, Senior Spring, is precarious. It’s like a dizzy red balloon at the end of a taut line — the thread that attaches the light, frantic excitement of any looming release to the heavy, terrible dread of walking outside those Van Wickle Gates.

A friend of mine described the transition in these terms: As soon as we leave, we start failing. And while that’s probably in dark taste, it savors of sour truth. The greatest of our expectations, given Fate’s indifferent shuffling of circumstance, won’t be realized. Everyone here fell upon good fortune, somehow. But it seems, maybe only to me, that all of life’s promises were once rolled up in this indulgent womb: Brown. And once we’re born from college, we start to compromise and then negotiate between the dreamiest of our desires and the coldest of our realities. For most of us, our narratives won’t arc to a neat climax like when we graduated from high school and then were smoothly accepted to an esteemed university.

But there’s also always been the weight. David Foster Wallace said it better than I ever could. From “Some Remarks on Kafka’s Funniness from Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed”:

Do you think it’s a coincidence that college is when many Americans do their most serious fucking and falling-down drinking and generally ecstatic Dionysian-type reveling? It’s not. College students are adolescents, and they’re terrified, and they’re dealing with their terror in a distinctly US way. Those naked boys hanging upside-down out of their frat-house windows on Friday night are simply trying to buy a few hours’ escape from the grim adult stuff that any decent school has forced them to think about all week.

A lot of us seem afraid of life after the Gates. Brown is the legendary Liberal Land, where students form NGOs join the Peace Corps, or coach Penn State (too soon?). But now the University is making a greater effort, through its Orwellian-sounding CareerLAB, to get students jobs in safer, more lucrative sectors (read: I-banking, consulting, and anything with the word “analyst”). But who can fault Brown’s twenty-somethings for wanting security when thrust into modern America — the nation that remains feebly caught in corporate clutches, sharply divided, humiliatingly in debt, and still at war.

Despite all of this end-of-the-road-for-seniors stuff, there are still a few months before it’s actually, officially, no question about it, over. So there’s still the lightness of college. I guess all one can do when faced with Senior Spring (or Fall, if it happens that way) is try to take pleasure from it. Which is sort of like asking a starving person to slowly eat and enjoy a cupcake.

We can hope to avoid the forced gaiety of the inbuilt, end-of-college retrospective.*

Wallace also once said, “This is so American, man: either make something your God and cosmos and then worship it, or else kill it.”

It’s easy when you’re at college to worship Brown as your God or shape it as your universe. But when we leave the Gates, we have to kill that deity, stamp it out, until the Main Green is like your childhood bedroom — full of memories from when we had more potential and when things were simpler, as the clock spins sweetly on its way.

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*Incidents relating to senior-scramble are exempt from this scorn.

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