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Thursday, June 20, 2024
The Observer

Letting it slide – just a little

A favorite line of teachers in middle school was to tell us that high school instructors would never tolerate tardiness or turning work in late and, in high school, that college professors would never let so-and-so behavior slide. As a senior in college, it’s somewhat entertaining to look back on those warnings and evaluate their truth: Does the world really get harsher and more hostile to “sliding” the older we get? My assessment: partially true, partially false. 

To some extent, colleges intend for this to be the experience. Universities don’t market the undergraduate years as ones of strict supervision or 24/7 regimens. They’re quite upfront about the concept that you’re now on your own: You alone are responsible for your making it to your 8 a.m. exam and you’ll simply get a zero if you don’t. And you yourself must contact your professor if you have questions or concerns about a course – not your parents. Especially for bigger classes where attendance isn’t taken, you can theoretically make it through the entire semester without showing up to a single session–though your GPA might not. And, often to my surprise after spending my high school years in uniform, no one will come running up to you to reprimand you for wearing a sleeveless top or ripped jeans in public–a relieving development.  

While a lot less is technically mandated on paper once we set foot on campus, we face just as many, if not more, responsibilities. They have simply changed. Other things have become important: we have civic duties. We confront new obligations living in a communal setting. We must find internships or jobs. We stress over suits and collared shirts as we finally find ourselves buying business-appropriate attire. The interesting paradox of college is that it can actually be more demanding to have fewer concrete demands for which others will look over our shoulders to make sure we fulfill. People make us do a lot less–but, really, that’s just because we must now make ourselves do the important things. 

In the new realm of delicate balance between freedom and responsibility that is college, one area in which I’ve had a surprisingly positive experience is deadlines. Three years ago, as a wide-eyed freshman, I deemed them hard lines that I didn’t dare cross. After all, I was decisively informed by every high school and middle school teacher ever that in the “real world,” anything late is unacceptable; if you miss a deadline, the universe will burst into flames – or at least your own future will. As a caveat, with the perspective I will share next, I certainly don’t mean to speak for all classes, occasions and professors. But I am here as a witness to report firsthand that sometimes, when you need an extension, you can in fact get one. 

Again, I don’t mean to encourage you to rip up your calendar, unset all your alarms and throw away your planner. The goal is still to make it by the deadline. And in life, some things you really can’t miss or be late for (As my dad often reminds me, the plane/bus/train/etc. “won’t wait for you.”). Deadlines keep us in line and allow the world to operate. We would live in utter chaos if everyone simply went about doing things whenever they wanted and didn’t have to coordinate anything or answer to anyone. So, no, I’m not advocating the death of the deadline. 

But sometimes, you just need an extension: There aren’t enough hours in the day for you to finish all the tasks facing you, or your brain is completely dry of ideas for your philosophy paper, or you just so happen to have two exams on the same day your research project is due. Some might say, “So what? Get it done, anyway.” That’s what we were raised to think – words hammered into our heads by high school teachers who had nothing but good intentions and sought to prepare us for the rigidity of the real world. But the reality is, we live in a more understanding world than we are led to believe, if only we look for it. Sometimes, when we tell our professors our circumstances, they might tell us that we have no business destroying ourselves to get that paper in by 5 p.m., and that an extra 24 hours won’t hurt anybody. 

Older generations, including our high school teachers, might shake their heads in disapproval at the mere thought of not turning in an assignment before the Sakai window closes– “How irresponsible! That would never fly in the real world!” They might even call us “snowflakes” for not breaking our backs to make sure that we never miss a deadline. Real adults are always on time, right? But there is no shame in prioritizing your wellbeing and mental health over your Sakai gradebook. It would harm us more in the long run to not do so. Plus, I, for one, like to turn in work that I’m proud of, not something I had no choice but to throw together in a rush after finishing five other assignments in the days before. That extension of an extra day or two can–and I’d argue, will–mean better engagement with the course material. So, the bottom line is: Students, if you’re drowning, don’t be scared to ask for an extension. I have, and will continue to do so if the need arises. Professors, if students seek an extension, seriously consider granting them one. They’re only asking because they really need it. 

My epiphany on extensions has been a more recent phenomenon, likely because as an upperclassman I now tend to take smaller classes that allow for more contact with professors, and they are able to be more lenient. So, instructors of the mass 150-person lectures might pull their hair in disbelief at this column wondering where in the world I’ve gotten my information and who allowed me to give such advice. But if you, or someone you know, is in desperate need of an extension, it doesn’t hurt to ask. The worst professors can say is no, and if they do, your deadline stays the same. 

For the record, what I have told you, reader, is not all hearsay. I’m not giving you reckless advice to hold off on starting your work with the idea that you can just ask for an extension, while myself turning in all assignments by 11:59 p.m. I have made personal use of extensions, thanks to empathetic, realistic professors, and quite fittingly, this column even comes to you courtesy of an extended deadline (Thank you, Abby Patrick, Editor of Viewpoint.). Sometimes we can let things slide, just a little. 

A former resident of Lyons Hall, Eva Analitis is a senior majoring in political science and pre-health. Even though she often can’t make up her own mind, that won’t stop her from trying to change yours. She can be reached at eanaliti@nd.edu or @evaanalitis on Twitter.

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