As the semester is winding down, I’ve noticed three consistent moods among people graduating on May 20: full acceptance that they’re graduating, half-acceptance and half-denial that they’re graduating or the joking thought that graduating on May 20 is the plan. As a graduating senior – some people don’t realize I’m a senior and think I’m a first-year, but that’s fine, I guess – I am solidly in the middle group. But that’s not all.
As early as February, I’ve seen fellow seniors post about their plans after college. They’re going to grad school. They’ve got a job lined up. They’ve got some other amazing opportunity. They’ve got definitive plans for what they’re doing at least for the next couple of months. As for me, it’s May 2018, I’ve worked my butt off all of college and I still don’t have any clue what I’m doing after graduation. All that I know for sure is I can’t afford to take a year off to figure it out, and I’m having so many mental breakdowns as a result. So much for “work really hard freshman, sophomore and junior years so you can relax senior year,” am I right?
So, let’s talk about the “taking it easy senior year” myth. This whole notion of working so hard one’s freshman, sophomore and junior years that one doesn’t have to work much senior year is troubling and even frightening in many ways.
First, it assumes that everyone in the educational institution is on equal footing and each student has the same amount of resources available, which simply isn’t true. Second, not all schools are created equal, so students’ schedules may not work out this way. Maybe it’s not possible to overload yourself with so many credits due to class size limitations or class availability. Third, needing to work endlessly freshman, sophomore and junior years to compensate for relaxing senior year only opens the door for students to set up unrealistic expectations for themselves. If they fail even one test, they feel like they’re not going to graduate. If they need an extension on an assignment, it’ll set them back further.
Going through this process continually makes the student feel like they’re a disappointment compared to the rest of their peers. Then, as a result, their mental health is negatively impacted. Sure, celebrities and big-time CEOs like to say you shouldn’t be afraid of failure. You should embrace it because that’s how they became celebrities and, in their minds, successful. To the extent of you shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes, I agree with this.
But, accepting failure is also harder to put into practice. No one wants to stand out as the person who failed, even if it’s only temporary. Students, as they’re trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be, don’t want to be easy targets for their peers, teachers or other adults in their lives.
I say enough is enough with the “work so you can relax senior year” garbage. Students shouldn’t have to work themselves to the bone at the price of their mental health just to satisfy society’s obsession with productivity. Students shouldn’t be pressured either by the “real” adults (the adults who aren’t in college, anyway) or their peers to get their lives together when you have people in their 30s, 40s and even 50s just starting to figure out what they want to do with their lives.
Some advice from the one who’s tired of “what are you going to do after graduation?” questions: Don’t ask that. If you find out someone’s a senior, don’t let that be your first question. Don’t ask the question that upholds the belief that productivity at all times leads to success, opening the doors for anxiety and depression. Instead, try asking about how they feel about graduating. You’ll seem more like a person who cares rather than someone who’s ready to be disappointed.
It’s time we support students and their mental health instead of bringing them down if they’re not productive by our standards.
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