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Johnson '11: Paper or plastic: checking out?

With the spring semester in full swing, it is appropriate to take the time to address a trend with which everyone is all too familiar — seniors mailing in the end of their Brown careers.

This is not the same as the high school brand of senioritis. Back then, we had all probably heard from our schools of choice and were preparing for the trips to Costco to buy all the shampoo we would ever need for the rest of our lives. The prospect of higher education provided a safety net of sorts, allowing us to coast through the last three to five months of the school year. I had it particularly good — at my high school, seniors did not even have to take finals. We would just slide through until the last weeks of April, take our Advanced Placement tests and watch movies for a month and a half until "Pomp and Circumstance" escorted us out.

But at Brown, applying to graduate school is not a given, unlike applying to an undergraduate institution was in high school. A smaller percentage of the graduating class goes on to pursue more degrees than did after high school graduation, with a larger chunk going directly to the workforce. Some of those jobs start in June. Others hold off until August, allowing us to savor the sweet freedom — and poverty — of truly being on our own.

On the other side of the Van Wickle Gates, there is no safety net. While the rise of the welfare state in Western politics has changed this to some extent, there is no "reset button" awaiting us next September. If we choose to coast through our last few months, we are wasting the few risk-free opportunities we have left to us, possibly for the rest of our lives. To do so is unfair to ourselves, unfair to the University and unfair to our classmates, who are just as important in the learning experience as any other aspect of the classroom.

By the time one becomes a senior, it is a foregone conclusion that he or she has learned how to game the system, to "get by" doing minimum amounts of work when necessary, putting in more effort down the line to squeeze out another night of procrastination. These are life lessons that college is supposed to teach. Time management goes hand-in-hand with prioritizing, and over four years, the wheat leaves the chaff far behind.

Part of this may stem from the reality that many of us have finished our concentrations, and we use the final semester or year to take courses we would never have dreamed of taking. This "better late than never" approach to the New Curriculum is widespread and should not be abolished. Some departments want their concentrators to at least be somewhat focused on the area in which they will receive a degree and require that a class of a certain level only be taken during the senior year. This is unobtrusive and effective.

There is a distinction between a little harmless coasting and wasting time. Students that take "gut" courses in their senior year because they heard they were easy or because they are introductory level classes should get themselves to the registrar and find somewhere else to be. If you are chatting in the back of class because you do not really want to be there and just want your 30th credit to get your diploma, go home, take the class satisfactory/no credit and show up for the final. The slides are online.

Seniors who feel entitled to some "me time" in their class selection are a distraction to those who care about the material, are a hassle for the professors who devote their precious time to teaching and may very well have taken a spot in a crowded class away from a deserving, enthusiastic underclassman. The priority we receive from gracious professors during shopping period should not be abused just so we can take something that looks cool or does not have too much work.

Senior year is a wonderful time. Seniors are generally appreciative of the fact that we do not have many free opportunities remaining to us. Unfortunately, too many of those seniors focus on the wrong free opportunities. While some harmless experimentation with what we are learning is to be expected and understood, do not waste your peers', professors' or your own time by checking out and waiting until Memorial Day weekend.


Mike Johnson '11 takes every class for all the wrong reasons.


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