Hi Agony Auntie,
Like many people, I’m delighted that this school year has provided the opportunity to return to some normalcy, and to interact and connect with both old and new people. It’s been great to catch up with friends I haven’t seen for a year and a half, and to finally meet those I’ve connected with online over the pandemic.
But this is also my last year of undergrad, and the thought of these connections fading — the moment after they seem to have just rekindled — has inspired some premature post-grad blues. I want to make the most of my last year, and my motivation towards my academics is gradually decreasing. While I could chalk this up to a healthy case of senioritis, it also makes it more difficult to care about school right now. My general aimlessness (in that I don’t have as clear of a plan for what I want to do after graduation as others), and the desire to spend as much time as I can with other people during this remaining time in school, just compound this feeling.
At the same time, I get the sense that I’m not the only one struggling with this balancing act. The impression I’ve gleaned from many of my fourth-year peers is that we’re all trying to eke out as much enjoyment from this final year as we can, because who knows where we’ll all be when we wake up the day after graduation, or if we’ll ever have the opportunity to see each other again. I realize this is hardly a new or original concern to have for a senior, but the year-and-a-half gap caused by the pandemic and our forced isolation has increased that sense of urgency for me.
Do I have my priorities right? Am I worrying for nothing?
Dear Clueless Kay,
Writing this to you as the majority of us sit cooped up in the places where we spent our holidays and never left, hoping against all hopes that normalcy will return when the clock strikes midnight on January 29th, is the epitome of the irony of life. For a majority of students, especially those in their final year of studies, 2021/22 was supposed to be a pleasant return to the (new) status quo. A reckoning. A wrapping up of loose ends. A time to take stock. I see this desire in the anxieties you now have. You are re-evaluating your priorities and wondering what exactly you will take away from your four years at UofT. The intellectual excellence that you are growing tired of or the friends that you are afraid are slipping away even now.
Regarding priorities – the short answer is yes. I think that they are right. As a fourth year student, you have spent seven semesters toiling for the coveted 80s and 90s of high achieving UofT students – which, let’s be honest, we all are. Especially since you don’t have a clear direction of what you want to pursue after graduation, it is only natural that you start to doubt the value of all the time and effort that you put into making that essay just right or pulling all nighters to study for dreaded exams. What did they truly get you? Is it all worth it in the end? Compounding this with the euphoria of seeing people on campus for the first time in nearly two years and the fear that the connections you made will slip away, it is only natural that you are choosing to feverishly grasp these social relationships as opposed to going back to the well-worn routine of academic achievement. If you are honest with yourself, you are probably quite tired of academics right now, which could be the reason why you are not immediately making graduate school plans. I want to tell you that this is okay – it’s okay to relax. To take it easy. To grab a coffee with a friend you met in that one class instead of putting in two more hours into editing a take-home midterm which will probably be fine as it is. Part of the growing pains of becoming an adult is learning how to juggle your priorities and emotional well-being. If grinding at Graham doesn’t spark joy anymore, then allow yourself to take a break and enjoy the company of the people around you. After all, university is just as much about the connections you make as the intellectual enlightenment you achieve. If this wasn’t the case, then uni brochures wouldn’t feature all those multicultural groups of friends sitting on perfectly manicured lawns. Besides, after four years at UofT, you have earned the right to be happy. This is not to say that you should throw all your second semester courses to the wind – flunking out now would annul all the previous hard work. Put in the time, get the grades, but don’t overwork yourself to the extent that you start to wonder why you decided higher education is a good idea in the first place.
University is an incubator, a point in time that will never exist again. Where else will you meet such an eclectic group of people still not tied down by the responsibilities of life, who breathe inspiration and possibility into each other at every step? This is not to force you into another existential spiral, but to highlight the beauty and inherent transience of any university experience – even those not plagued by a plague. Embrace this. Revel in the transience of the moment. Everything is bound to end, but the memories you make don’t have to. I know this sounds cheesy but it is also sometimes true. Remember the coffee order of one of your teammates, the inside jokes you made at the back of a class about that one professor with your group of pseudo-intellectual friends, the comforting hubbub of the buttery during lunch. Bottle these up, find warmth not in the fact that these moments are over but that you had the blissful joy of experiencing them. For what is life then not a constant memory of what you left behind?
When it comes to friendships, I too have been very afraid of letting the connections that I made over the past few years slip away. But if I have learned anything over the pandemic, it is that virtually everyone is looking for connection right now and is much more forgiving of social blunders. So go ahead – send that message to a person you met at a party that one time and made plans to have a coffee with but didn’t. Text the casual friends you’ve had since first year but didn’t ever really get close to and ask if they wanna wander aimlessly for a few hours. Let the people you met as part of a club know that you’re thinking of them and hope that they’re well. Chances are, no one will respond negatively. And if they do, direct them to Auntie for a stern talking to.
Most importantly, make sure to cherish the moments as they come. Even if they’re not what you thought they should’ve been. Even if they’re not perfect. Bon voyage, Kay. The world awaits you in anticipation.