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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

Junior year: the unspoken thing

No one ever really warns you about junior year. No one talks about the anxiety that comes when you remember that you’re halfway through the door. The dread that flushes over you when others ask, “So, what are your plans after college?” with increasing sincerity. The insignificance of being the campus middle child, not young enough to be interesting, not old enough to be memorable. Junior year is not quite its own thing. … It is, in its own way, merely transitionary. Existing as an evolutionary piece between the beginning of this whole college-thing and the end. Made only unique by the loneliness of being abroad. Or the loneliness of staying on campus. And the reality that the sophomores who once raised you when you were new … are now, somehow, graduating seniors. Whether it be a disorientation or a reorientation, no one warns you.

The other week, I met a first year who needed help finding her way to South Dining Hall. I decided to walk with her. On our march down the quad, she opened up to me, sharing that she truly did not feel that she was part of the University yet (a common, yet often unspoken, reality for each of us here in our own time). She didn’t feel accepted, wanted or claimed. … She felt like she was asking to be embraced with every misguided step she took. We were ND, and she was not. Or at least that’s how it seemed to her.

I looked to her and I sensed the same dark feeling that haunted my own freshman year a couple years back, only this time I was suddenly in a position to counsel. I told her the ways in which it gets worse before it gets so much better, and I looked inwardly in surprise as I dispelled wisdom I never knew I’d picked up along the way. When did I become the experienced one? The advisor? How did that happen?

Two years ago, I used to walk around this campus just like her. Roadmap in hand and class schedule tattooed to the inside of my eyelids, I felt like I was enrolled as a tourist. A visitor in residence. I was on the inside, but wrapped in cellophane; nothing I touched or saw or knew at this school was actually mine for the taking. Perhaps for the borrowing. Always for the returning. I used to joke that I wasn’t really a college student; I was merely a pioneer, studying what it meant to be one. And in my exploration of what this whole college experience could mean, I used the [then] upperclassmen above me as my muses, my models by which I could research what it must look like for someone to know what they are doing and where they fit in.

Now that I am a junior, I still don’t know what I’m doing, and I still don’t know where I fit in. My research? Inconsequential. My muses? Graduated and long gone. And yet, it seems as though this year’s first years see me and see nothing more than that same model for a “perfect” college student that I had only dreamed of becoming. Somehow, in all of my dreaming, I was becoming. I’ve transformed into the upperclassmen, the model, the muse. There seems to have been a huge mistake. Who let this happen? 

When that first year I met on the quad found out that I am a junior, she responded with, “Wow, so how does it feel to be on your way out?” You can imagine my surprise.

Juniors — what should I have told her? How does it feel?

We used to feel like we were on our way in. Now, they tell us that we are on our way out. So, where was that perfect middle? When were we supposed to feel like we were just … here? Where was the peak? How was the view? Did anyone catch it, or did we all blink? 

No one ever really warns you about junior year. No one talks about the whiplash of trying to compromise between always looking ahead and always looking back. The two semesters somehow spent both dreaming and remembering. The transition from college chewing us up to spitting us out. Whether it be a disorientation or a reorientation, no one warns you.

Theresa Azemar is a junior and can be reached at tazemar@nd.edu

Show Some Skin is a student-run initiative committed to giving voice to unspoken narratives about identity and difference. Using the art of storytelling as a catalyst for positive social change across campus, we seek to make Notre Dame a more open and welcoming place for all. If you are interested in breaking the silence and getting involved with Show Some Skin, email tazemar@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.