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BERKENWALD: The end of summer vacation

By Leah Berkenwald

Section: Opinions

April 1, 2005

The other day I declared my minor. For someone who freezes whenever someone asks them what they want to do when they grow up, declaring a minor is a bit easier than biting the bullet and admitting you want to be an American Studies Major. But, regardless of the declaration itself, meeting with my professor has led me to believe that every adult in a mentoring position has memorized the same, falsely inspirational speech. Heres how it goes:

Student: Well, I dont know. I [either] am just not sure yet [or] cant make up my mind!

Professor: Well, dont get too stressed out about it. Youre only how old are you?

Student: 19.

Professor: Youre only 19! Isnt that young for a sophomore?
Student: I skipped Kindergarten.

Professor: Oh. Well, youre only 19. You have [either] your whole life ahead of you [or] all the time in the world!

Student: Well, not exactly I have to declare by the end of my sophomore year
Professor: See, this is why its good that youre at a liberal arts university. Youre supposed to get a good general education- you have a chance to explore all sorts of fields- you can even try an art class!

Student: Sigh.

I have the feeling that most of us have had this conversationwith the exception of the part about skipping Kindergarten, of course. I have a feeling that might be specific to me but you still get the idea. But, if it is in fact true that we have our whole lives ahead of us, why are we feeling so much pressure?
Now, I am not saying that the professors who tell us this are wrong. They arent. From the standpoint of someone who has already finished college and had one or many careers, this statement is fundamentally sound. We are young, there is time.

So, whats with all the pressure? We have to declare a major by the end of sophomore year. Thats coming up quickly for some of us, (me). And what about Study Abroad? Its something that most of us want to do in theory- but are we really ready to pick a country, pick a city, pick a program, find scholarships, and leave our friends behind to have a semester of fun without us? All by October?

And what about internships? Not only have they become an essential stepping stone to graduate school or the real world, but now they are often a requirement for majors and minors. Ever wonder why we dont call it summer vacation anymore? Its because we dont have a vacation anymore. We call it a break but it isnt really. Its a break from school, but not from the pressure to plan for our futures. Theres no time for cross-country road trips or backpacking through Europe anymore- summers are for internships. And since you have to live wherever the (unpaid) internship dictates, summers are also for saving money to cover the costs of said internship.

You can always change majors, everyone says. But something tells me that a second semester junior with all of her math requirements finished might find it hard to switch into anthropology, with no reqs finished, and still graduate on time.

In reality, we dont have all the time in the world. We only have 2 years to pick our major. But even more importantly, we only have 4 years to be in college in total. Four years to do everything weve wanted- to become club leaders, to live in Ridgewood, to study abroad, to take that studio art class, or to make those life-long friends.

The hard part is accepting that our college experience may not turn out like we wanted. We may never get a good housing lottery number. The class weve been waiting for may be cancelled. We might never make the team. We might never lose the weight. And most frightening of all, our life-long friends may end up being our high school friends. Nineteen is not very young when you are pushed out of the nest at 21.

But maybe the point we should be paying attention to is not the pressured to make decisions in college, but rather that our futures may have nothing to do with the decisions we make in college at all. English majors may decide to go to med school someday. Doctors can become writers, and writers may become entrepeneurs. Econ majors could even become actors, though thats pushing it. But either way, we dont have to have it all figured out by the time we graduate. We just have to figure out how to graduate. We have the rest of our lives to worry about the rest.

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