By Andrew Willis
Volume XXXVII, April 4, 2014
I have a very strong relationship with my older sister, Mary, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, but we don’t often gab about our feelings or enjoy long Skype sessions. Instead, most of our day-to-day communication, made possible through the medium of Snapchat, is nothing more than amusing nonsense: virtually all of the unopened red squares from her in my inbox will feature my sister holding a glass of wine or an even more festive drink with a caption like “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!” or “Happy MLK Day!” or “Happy Tuesday!” She genuinely might be my greatest role model, but it still amuses me to no end that the setting of her snaps will soon change from dorms and lecture halls to cubicles and conference rooms. Mary, just like the 455 seniors at Amherst College, has only a few short weeks before she leaves college behind and joins the real world.
In my all-boys high school, I worshipped the ground upon which the seniors treaded. They had wisdom, experience, and the advantage of both size and facial hair. Forget striking up some kind of friendship, I was afraid to even talk to them. And though we never spoke that much to them, my friends and I certainly talked about how funny Tim was or how smart Peter was or whatever else on a regular basis. It took a while after they had graduated for me to realize how unimpressive and regular most of them were. There is rarely any reason for eighteen-year-olds to be revered, and my high school’s class of 2010 was hardly an exception to that rule.
But dynamics between freshmen and seniors at Amherst strike me as fundamentally different, not least of all because I no longer have to look six inches upwards to talk to the seniors. Here, freshmen seem to talk about seniors with reverence only when the upperclassmen are connected with alcohol, especially when they are obtaining it for a freshman. I’ve lost track of the amount of times a fellow freshman has nervously handed me a phone with a text draft like “yo dude could you get me a handle of raspberry ruby for thursday? haha” and then asked me to use my editing prowess to make the request for booze seem as casual as possible. It might be pretty common for me to hear my dorm mates bragging about hanging out with some seniors they know, but that pride seems more related to hanging out in a suite and dancing and drinking for free than to the actual seniors, the actual people with whom they spent time. I’ve even seen some freshmen take advantage of kinder seniors, who are so wary of being seen as uncool or unchill or unfun that they’re willing to allow a bunch of drunk freshmen to run rampant in their suite. It’s not exactly difficult to point out flaws in the drinking culture at Amherst (or on any college campus), but the way it makes freshman see upperclassmen as a means to an end is disappointing and never discussed.
In one of my classes, the professor randomly assigned us into project groups. My group, comprised of two freshmen, a sophomore, and a senior, has had trouble organizing and arranging meeting times due to everyone’s busy schedules. I can’t help but feel ridiculous when the senior casually talks about being out of town for a Goldman interview or two and I’m having trouble working out free time because me and five other freshman guys need to practice our rendition of “Sk8r Boi” for Lip Sync. She’s thinking about a way to earn a living for the rest of her life and I’m just trying to get a nice double in Mo Pratt. And this difference, this imbalance, is exactly why the freshmen could stand to learn a lesson from the seniors.
College is an excellent idea in theory, but absurd in practice. Smart and motivated young adults come together to learn from one another, broaden their horizons, and prepare themselves for their futures. But it’s also the place where the world’s “leaders for tomorrow” spend much of their time relaxing, partying, and coasting through classes. If I see a guy wearing a shirt with an emblem that simply reads “College,” I feel safe assuming that he’s at least as proud of his beer pong record as he is of his higher education. Freshmen will have three more years in this easy and relatively stress-free environment, but seniors are getting ready to face the real world, real problems, and things that actually matter. I’ve heard people joke that the worst thing you can do is ask a senior what he or she plans on doing after college, but there’s some truth to that. My palms are sympathetically sweaty just thinking about the decisions college seniors all across the country are making right now.
All freshman are looking at their very near future when they look at the senior class. Personally, that’s not the greatest news in the world, given the amusing messes that some of my senior friends have made of their lives, but it’s for the best to accept it as true. There’s something terrifyingly incredible about the transition they’re about to make, and given how quickly the past eight months have flown for me, I wouldn’t mind picking up some tips on how to someday make that transition and prepare myself for the awful world of job applications and tax forms and 401ks and apartments that will make Waldorf and Plaza seem like the Dakota. The class that’s about to start the most important time of their lives is leaving and it would be a shame if freshmen didn’t learn something from them before they’re gone.