I flounce into Williamstown, basking in the flaxen omniscience of the sun. The memories of recently-ended summer meander through my mind. My Teva flip-flops thwack against the cracking pavement, each step a staccato reminder of how great it is to be back home at Williams. I hear a slow humming from the distance, a murmur that gradually crescendos into dramatic chorus of clamoring human voices. Suddenly, I am mauled by a hoard of angry, newly-inducted sophomores. Hundreds surround me. They skewer me with the rising hysteria characteristic of soccer mom sideline banter and CIA interrogations: “What are you doing next year?” Umm … “And next summer?” When? “Have you thought about after you graduate?” I have to graduate? “What sort of career do you want?” Taxidermist? “Where do you plan on settling down?” Come again? “What will you name your children?” Who said anything about children? “What retirement home would you like to live in?” Perhaps one with a nice Jacuzzi. “Who do you want to write your obituary?“ Definitely my dentist. “What sort of rock would you like your tombstone to be made of?“ Maybe an off-white granite?
Melodrama aside, since the beginning of my sophomore year, the question of “the future” has loomed large. More specifically, the question “what to do junior year” has infiltrated an inordinate number of dinner conversations, late nights in the common room and casual encounters in Paresky. Often, when a silence descends upon a group of sophomores, one sophomore eventually turns to another and asks: “So what are your plans for next year?” While this inquiry begins as an innocent icebreaker, the conversation often contorts somehow into a stress-inducing discussion of plans, projections, worries and decisions for the coming year.
Planning for the future is, of course, not bad or wrong. During sophomore year, many tough and important and exciting decisions must be made: Will I go abroad? Do I try and become a Junior Advisor (JA)? Stay here? What do I want to major in? How do I want to spend the next two years at the College? These questions are complex and important and require in-depth introspection and ideally, frequent discussion with peers.
However, these conversations about the future must enable self-exploration and exciting contemplation instead of acting as all-consuming, stressful, silence-fillers. Sophomores often approach the question of their junior year as a rat race to pick out a single “right” path from among a multitude of “wrong” paths. But rather than viewing one of the three options through the binary of right and wrong, good and bad, one should assume the inherent “goodness” in each choice. Whatever happens, there remains the potential for amazing experiences and interesting opportunities: Go abroad? Have a unique and eye-opening experience. Stay here? Continue taking amazing classes, join new clubs, meet new people and make new memories. Stay here and become a JA? Meet some awesome first-years and concretely build the community at the College. Take a year off? Have the time to pursue something you otherwise wouldn’t have. No sophomore knows what the surprising reality of any of these choices entails. Each person can only strive to make an intelligent decision regarding which choice suits him or her best and plan for the unexpected in any case. The “junior year question” should not involve stressful and paralyzing discussions, which invariably whip sophomores into a frenzy and set their hearts on a single “right” path. Rather, it should evoke a grounded and calculated process of self-exploration.
Sophomores do not exclusively exercise the all-consuming discourse about the future. The emotional wounds of my junior and senior years of high school – in which I was asked no less than 100 times per day where I planned on going to college, how many times I took the SATs and when I would get college decisions back – still sting. I hear similar conversations descending upon seniors as the job search and fellowship applications begin. Every year, some fundamental question is collectively posed to a class of students, the question that “defines” what each student should plan for. Every year, although conscious and slightly miffed by this trend, I find myself filling silences unnecessarily with untethered questions of “study abroad,” “desired part in the third-grade play” or “type of job I hope to obtain proceeding graduation.”
And so, at the risk of sounding preachy, I frequently have to remind myself, as the Williams Outing Club advises, to “Get out and play.” Allocate time to think about and plan for next year, but don’t let it become an all-consuming and stressful process. Enjoy the process of discerning what experience you want in the future by flushing it out with your friends. But don’t let future-planning come at the expense of introducing fresh, compelling conversations and forging new experiences. The future is coming, but the present is fleeting. Make it into something.
A.J. Solovy ’15 is from Seattle, Wash. She lives in Mark Hopkins.