Last First Day Reflections: On Being A Super Senior
Izzi McDonnell | 9/2/16 11:56am
| Updated 9/2/16 11:56am
American Word Magazine
I’m Izzi, and I’m a super senior. That’s a phrase I thought I’d never say until it happened, and now it’s the first week of Fall semester 2016. It brings me a bit of anxiety and a slight sense of shame because I thought I would have moved on by now—propelling myself into some dazzling future—but there are still many steps I must take between my protected, innocent student experience and the harsh realities of the so-called “real world.”
With the current hubbub on campus of bright-eyed freshmen, I can’t help but feel so separate from the experience of my previous years at American. My heart and mind no longer want to be a part of the social identity that the university offers you the day you start college.
As my imminent professional future bangs on the door of my dizzied mind, I feel overwhelmed by all my personal to-do lists and goals that have piled up over the past four years of my college life. As I sit expressionless on the shuttle bus listening to vaporwave music, I keep asking myself, What person did I really want myself to be by the end of college? A frisbee player? A volunteering sorority member? A literature major? A river of a thousand thoughts and emotions rush through my mind each day, becoming heightened the moment I step foot onto campus. I remind myself that all these identities aren’t truly meant for me: when you’re truly passionate about something, you’ll do anything to chase it. I’ve done and learnt all the things I was meant to during my time at American. I should never regret the past.
Seeing the incoming class of 2020 has made me, albeit a little pessimistic, even more reflective of myself and the world than I have been this past year. I ruminate on my past relationships. My future career. My values. Changing dynamics within my family. Who my real friends are. The state of this country and the state of international politics. Gender inequality. Sustainability. Spirituality. The 24-hour student, activist and young professional is constantly flooded with thoughts on their place and significance in the world, on top of needing to be hyper-conscious of deadlines, projects and applications, while also needing to remember to clean the kitchen and recycle more and eat less take-out food because the redundant plastic cutlery will inevitably become part of the gargantuan waste-ball that will kill marine life for the next 300 years. Will humans even be around by then? What’s the point in me ordering take-out food anyway?
I’m acutely aware, when waiting in line at the grocery store during rush hour, or waiting at the bus stop among hoards of commuters, or watching yuppies bask in their Starbucks coffees and happy-hours, that I’m on the brink of becoming a part of the proverbial machine: the repetitive, banal existence of day-to-day modern life. I’m about to become a part of a lifestyle that will change my everyday thoughts from mindfulness and mental maturation to an interminable anxiety of meeting deadlines, paying the bills, and avoiding falling into the trap of the Hedonic Treadmill, while simultaneously reminding myself that I should probably get on a real treadmill three times per week. And between the coffees, meetings, clients and Netflix shows, I scold myself because I’m supposed to meditate every week, too – because now I’m part of some self-improvement game with my peers.
Between the wine nights and college cookouts and fancy dinners downtown, I’m still left wondering whether I really care about all these activities and nights out, because deep down I know I’m gaining no sense of meaning or authenticity from these brief distractions that cushion me from the pressures of the academic and professional spheres.
After all, the reason we’re choosing to become a part of the job market is to gain the status, wealth, happy-hours and commodities that the media and society have been preening us to desire from birth. Because that’s what we want, right? I’m hoping that, after my endless writings, self-reflections and honest conversations with people who happened to come into my life, I won’t give in to the pressure of becoming a human produced from the factory of society that David Foster Wallace talks about in his speech, “
This is Water.”
Despite this diatribe, at the end of it all, I’m beyond grateful for my experience at AU. I’ve had the incredible opportunity to study in the U.S. and study abroad in a program that completely changed my life, perspectives and values, and showed me another beautiful way to live. I’ve had the privilege of meeting inspirational, passionate and forward thinking people who have molded the way I think in multifarious ways. I’ve been taught by professors who are Renaissance men and women in their fields and are beacons of excellence and activism. I’ve been educated at an institution that illustrates, wholeheartedly, there’s no point in having a college degree if you don’t care about anyone but yourself. AU forced me to strive for a macrocosmic perspective and a life of compassion and drive. AU helped me learn that you can’t romanticize a culture, its people or point of view, but should simply broaden your mind to understand as much as possible and to make the best of what you’re given. American enabled me to study a second language throughout college, and those skills have allowed me to communicate with and understand countless individuals from all walks of life. When I think of all the things this school has allowed me to achieve and explore, I feel blessed.
As new students embark on their experience at American, I encourage you to not only take advantage of the exciting and new social connections, classes and the city itself, but to also invest in yourselves, on a deep and intimate level. Don’t simply work toward completing your professional goals or your travel bucket-list, but make goals for your emotional and mental maturation. Strive for authenticity and depth. Make goals to become a better listener. Make goals to increase your awareness on the importance of diversity and gender equality, to learn about the other sides of stories. Of course, it’s important to focus on transitioning smoothly into adulthood and professional life after graduation, but I think that our future lives can be enjoyed more deeply when we pay attention to what’s asking to be understood inside ourselves. Ask yourself, as said by one of my favorite Buddhist practitioners, Jack Kornfield, “What kind of dance do you want to make of this human life?” When I think about approaching life in a more open-hearted way, I’m not at all scared about what life post-AU has in store for me.