Ready for a bombshell? There are only nine academic days left in this semester. I’m sure many of you share in my feeling that midterms were only yesterday, and that while most of the leaves are now dead and fallen off the trees between Nethery and the Campus Center, we surely can’t be more than a day or two past September. I walked past two men from Grounds the other day putting up Christmas lights in front of Buller and I wanted to shout at them to inform them that they were much too early and should just pack it up and go home for a few weeks. Since then I’ve been in a haze denial, like when one of my psychology classmates asked Dr. Bailey about the “upcoming” final exam and he responded by saying there were only two more lectures before it. “Nope! Can’t be. They’re confused.” But no, I am the one who’s lost hold of reality and now finds himself inches away from the precipice that is the end of this semester.
So like any responsible, certainly not procrastinating, student surrounded by term papers, presentations and study guides would do, let’s take a moment for retrospection. If you’re anything like me then your childhood was filled with shows on the Public Broadcasting Service, which was essentially a babysitter and considered far superior to the filth that was Cartoon Network by my fiercely well intentioned parents. I guess the suburban adventures of a big red dog named Clifford was quality entertainment, but the exploits of a young genius named Dexter in his attic laboratory was garbage. If you can relate at all then you know that any good PBS show ended with a segment of “Okay kids, now what have we learned?” I find myself repeating this question to myself at the end of every semester, like a monk’s mantra, right up to the moment I finish my last exam.
Besides the facts and figures, besides syntactic rules from Linguistics and the theories of reinforcement from Learning and Behavior, I believe there are some major lessons I’ve picked up in the fall of 2016 that, while they may never appear on a test, are certainly worth holding on to.
1. If you live in a prairie dog hole, the coyotes are gonna scare you. Now a whole week away from the presidential, I find that I spend much of my time in what could be likened to an ideological prairie dog community. It’s warm and safe down here. Like living in a bubble, I’ve surrounded myself with like-minded individuals who, more often than not, agree with me on the big issues. If I stay down here too long without poking my head up to view the rest of the world, I become complacent. This mistake is one that I think anyone can make, but it will only make us more scared when we come across a coyote.
2. If you don’t specialize your breakfast burritos from the gazebo, they come out faster. Enough said.
3. Sometimes your gut is wrong. Sometimes your first idea is not your best. Being overly loyal to your gut reaction can make you blind to opportunities of excellence. This semester I’ve become a compulsive restarter. Sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally I’ve been crumpling up pages of writing at tossing them at the trash can in the corner. Whether it is my chronic self-doubt or a grain of optimism that tells me I can do better, something has been urging me semester to restart and surpass what I thought I could do. I’ve seen this is our weekly newspaper meetings. Yes, our instincts can sometimes be strong ideas, but sometimes our guts are just lazy and coming up with the quickest solution to an issue. Try again. Challenge self.
4. Musicals and early American history are cool again. Much like those awkward middle school teachers who tried to make learning fun by being hip with the youths, the Broadway show Hamilton took the nation by storm this year. Perhaps more things should be explained using rap as a medium, like how the electoral college works and why it’s more outdated than a horse-drawn carriage.
5. Total isolation is a quick route to mediocrity. Many undergrads cringe at the sound of a professor saying “group project” for fear of carrying other’s weight and being forced to work with strangers. As someone who would have rather done five projects on my own than one group assignment, this semester I’ve been massively impressed by the power of a group with a common goal. Being able to humble yourself and say “I do not have all the answers” is a strength. From the creation of this newspaper to drafting research papers, it has rung truer than ever that what I can do on my own is okay at best, but with the best team, mediocrity is not even an option.