So, you are three years down and have one more to go. You’ve probably made and changed your close group of friends, spent late nights talking to who will stay with you forever, scraped sleep out of your eyes cramming for an exam the next day, and had the “what I am going to do next” freak out moments. We can look forward to the graduation speech at the end of the year giving us advice for moving forward, whether in a pessimistic way as Bret Stephens did in a letter to the class of 2012 or through amusing vignettes about the value of our time by Charles Wheelan in 10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You, both in the Wall Street Journal. Everyone has advice for us in our years after college, but how about our year as a college senior?
We have one more year of late night, spur of the moment conversations where it is acceptable to just walk down the hall and sit on a friend’s floor sharing a bottle of wine and talking about anything and everything. It’s another year where you are surrounded by people working in all different fields and you can just ask them to have lunch or coffee with you. You have free time that is yours to shape, access to professors who spend their lives working in the fields you have had the chance to explore and sample as you wished. You could join any number of dance troops, spoken word groups, theater productions, activist networks, and other things that drive creative energy on your campus.
So how do we spend our year as a college senior? Is it worth trying to keep up with everything we did before? Are we looking for the capstone/memory we need to leave behind?
Get to know your professors
There are several things that college is meant to give us. Maybe it taught you to think. It exposed you to new fields and specific courses like Latin American Revolutionaries and the Cold War. The best part of my academic experience was to wrap myself deeply into my majors.
I got to know a few of my professors very well and shared my ideas, summer plans and essays with them. Your professors were hired by your university because they are contributing to their fields, and hopefully one of these fields offered by your university interests you. Even if you don’t want to work in academia, spend some time talking to your professors. Some of my professors have become mentors who I go to see when I am thinking through a few different options for summer work or even research topics for essays.
This year while I am working on my fall thesis I will be in Colombia talking to a few of the contacts my professor and mentor shared with me. He has written me several recommendations for work and sent information about opportunities on campus and beyond to me wherever he saw them. These relationships have been, for me, among some of the most meaningful I have had on campus.
Find your creative side
You also deserve an outlet. Universities often have resources devoted to supporting artistic groups on campus, and this is a good time to explore and find your medium of expression. I have worked through some of my most difficult times by working in our ceramics studios. Building something requires thought from several different processes: you have to look at your work from different angles, try a few different approaches of problem solving, and work to communicate an image you have in your mind through your hands.
For me, this approach to art and communication has been very important. But in my last year I want to challenge myself to communicate through a different medium. I know that I prefer sculpture because I can say a lot without having to say things directly. Spoken word, in some ways, is another way of communicating in a language that I haven’t learned to speak yet. Art is beautiful because it forces you to have difficult conversations with yourself that you didn’t expect to have. This same experience can happen for you in any number if venues, but it is up to you to find it for yourself.
Your Bucket List
The idea of a senior “capstone” project is worth considering by all seniors. Even bucket lists produced by USA Today College suggest building a project that leaves your mark. As students, we want something tangible that we can easily point to as a project or accomplishment from our time in college. Your “capstone” doesn’t need to be in a specific format, like a 150 page thesis. Your capstone can be the free-trade cotton t-shirts you helped to land in the campus bookstore or the children you tutored through the afterschool program you joined. You can still leave feeling that you have accomplished something real, even if it’s not an official capstone. Our successes live through our work, essays we were proud to hand in, and most importantly through our friendships and the people we impact.
Focus on the friendships
The best part of my college experience truly has been my friends. It took me a while to find some of them, I have grown closer to some and more distant from others, but they have been there to see me through some of the best and worst times of my college experience. In ten years I know that I will be able to come back to some of these friends, tell them everything and work through it.
Take this year to make friends. I mean, real I-will-call-you-out-on-things friendships. The most valuable conversations I have had are not always pleasant or fun, but they have been with friends who will stand like a mirror before me, ignoring your protestations and forcing you to see what is really there instead of what you want to see. Some days they will be the shoulder you need to lean against, others they will be in the audience smiling at you while you do your thing, but don’t leave college without a friend who you know will never judge you but will be there to guide you when you most need it.
This is your last year to build yourself a community that you can always come back to. Learn to communicate your ideas in different ways, enjoy time with your friends and try to make new ones who think and do things differently from you, don’t get hung up on this idea of a “capstone” project, and give yourself over to come thing that you really care about. This is your year to shine and do things for you, so make the most of it.
Photo courtesy of Justice for You.