The space between

The senior year is not just a transition.

by Bronwyn Miller

Tuesday prompted a strange reality check for many of us seniors out there: It was our last first day of school. It’s a feeling that can be classified as both celebratory and terrifying; the weight of the word “senior” feels too heavy to be held just yet. The finality attached to declaring that I am in the final year of college is unfamiliar, and I envy the airiness with which others call themselves sophomores or juniors.

Senior year of college is often defined as transitional, a period in which we navigate the conclusion of our role as a student and the start of the post-college journey of our choosing. As seniors, we’re juggling incessant future-related concerns and questions (anyone else already sick of being asked what you’ll be doing after graduation?) on top of a normal course load, mandatory “graduation planning” and the anxiety associated with accepting that the so-called best years of our lives are coming to an end. Our self-concept muddles as we begin to shed the “student” label in favor of “college-educated professional.” We’re looking forward and backward at the same time.

In many ways, such a time encompasses the concept of liminality, the idea of being neither here nor there, at a crossroads, immobile. The problem with the uncertainty of liminal spaces is how anxious it can make us and how draining the conflicting pressures and identity crises can truly be. The result? We’ve all seen it from our older peers: a steady flow of graduation countdowns, angst-ridden Facebook statuses (“sooo done with school”), and other signs that imply seniors just want to get out. Gone are the previous year’s YOLO-inspired risk-taking, school spirit and undying excitement for Taco Tuesday. Senior year becomes a race rather than a journey.

As thrilling as what’s to come in the future may seem when we’re up all night making notecards for an exam, we must avoid inhabiting that liminal space. Our U-Passes and yoga-pants-four-days-a-week lifestyles still scream college student — embrace it. Stall the onset of the gloomy, transitional period, or better yet, skip it altogether. Wear the student badge of honor for as long as you can; then make the mental and physical transition to life’s next step. By refusing to reduce your senior year to liminal doom, you’ll leave very little room for later regrets. Once we graduate, there is no senior year do-over. Our loans will rack up whether we live this year to its fullest potential.

The last year of college is not a waiting room to enter the “real world.” Instead, it might be your last chance to fall asleep in a library without being judged, build connections with world-class professors, pregame a football game by doing a 7 a.m. beer bong, stumble upon free food without even trying and engage in countless other activities that are, believe it or not, not so commonplace after college. “Sorry for the drunk text” probably won’t be as cute after graduation either.

Post-graduate life will arrive before we know it. Save the existentialist despair for that time; at least then we will have our college diplomas to cry over as we question our purpose. Our college experiences — the student section rowdiness at sports games, the walks of shame, the shoe tree shenanigans, the 3 a.m. McDonald’s journey — and next day’s post-Big Mac regret — are the foundations of memories we will hold onto for the rest of our lives. Forget liminality; to engage in our final year of college with the zeal of a Welcome Week-inspired freshmen or to mentally check out can very much be a conscious decision. My senior year will not be a mere transition; it’s its own expedition, to be filled with highs, lows, pride and shame until I walk across that stage in May.