Looking forward, looking back

I’m a second semester senior, and it’s awesome. I mean “awesome” in one of the original uses of the word “awe”: “the feeling of solemn and reverential wonder, tinged with latent fear, inspired by what is truly sublime and majestic in nature,” as described in definition number three in the hard copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. I’m trying to say that I’m completely baffled about how all of us seniors got to this place, this final semester at Williams, and that it’s incredibly daunting and inspiring to be on the verge of breaking out into some different world after graduation.

But actually, my point is also that I felt compelled to pull this eight-pound dictionary off the shelf of a crunchy coffee shop in Bennington to look up the word “awe.” Treating myself to coffee shop time while at the College has always come with the burden of having to get a lot of work done for class. I’ve always wanted to go to South Street Café in Bennington with no particular agenda and just take one of their books or board games off the shelf, and now I’m starting to do those things. Next week, I might blow off some assigned reading and just flip through the fiction anthology that always sits above the ceramic mugs that are for sale.

My newfound, still highly-nerdy rebellion definitely has something to do with the intellectual curiosity that four years of liberal arts learning has given me, but I think it also has a lot to do with this in-between time that we seniors are in. These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about the kind of person I will be once I graduate and the little things I can do now to start becoming that exciting person, traipsing through some cool urban locale in her early 20s. Without homework, will I just start pulling books off the shelves of coffee shops all the time?

Hopefully I won’t be the kind of person who uses coffee shop reading as a benchmark for her sense of adventure and coolness. So that’s another thing I’ve started doing as a second-semester senior: I write and read a truckload of blogs to get a better sense of my interests and as a way to discover what I really think is cool. It’s a way to procrastinate from writing papers for class, sure, but it’s also a place to write in the way I want to after graduation – about the things that interest me, using the social media tools I’d love to work with in my first job. I’ve lost my handle on what’s more relevant – my potentially career-related work or my class work – and that’s a confusing place to be.

Of course, there are probably plenty of seniors who have been doing things like this all along, who have been forward-looking for the entirety of their time on campus, who have been blogging and reading for pleasure and designing websites and, I don’t know, conducting offbeat science experiments in their dorm rooms on a weekly basis. But I’m not going to get to know all of those seniors; already there is only a week and a half until spring break, and when April gets underway, the clock will really be ticking. And so again, there is this funny senior spring dynamic where we become more aware of how many interesting and talented classmates we have, but also more aware of the time we just want to spend with the great friends we have already made.

I think it’s more than okay for us to be dealing with these contradictory feelings and this warped sense of which tasks actually matter. It’s okay to get a jump start on feeling uncomfortable again. There is nothing wrong with breaking our routines of Sunday mornings at Tunnel City or 45-minute elliptical sessions, swapping them out for a morning without work, a walk or a pick-up game of basketball. And it’s okay to feel weird about doing so, as we want to cling to our personal Williams traditions lest we take any detail of our singular experience here for granted. But seniors can benefit by embracing the awkwardness of this semester – defined by an intense fear of impending nostalgia coupled with intense excitement about bursting this damn bubble – and feeling a little discombobulated. It’s training for the discomfort we’ll feel come June when we hit the next phase.

I’m a second semester senior and it’s strange.


Katy Gathright ’12 is an English and history double major from Bethesda, Md. She lives in Wood.

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