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The spring term and the rest of my life (Feb. 1993)

The good thing about becoming a senior, I thought when I got back to school last September, was realizing how foolish we all were three years ago.

While this year’s freshmen spent their first few days waiting in lines for phone service, adjusting to their roommates’ personal habits, and getting lost on the way to the dining hall, my senior-class friends and I—connected, acquainted, and fed—were relaxing. New students may pay fortunes for ugly sofas, fight with their suitemates, agonize over five-page papers weeks in advance. We, after three fruitful years, knew better. My final semesters at Yale would be easy, I thought, a time to spend with my friends, enjoy the last months of college, and use all the tricks I had picked up along the way.

But things have changed in the past few months. A couple of weeks into the year, I realized I was entering new terrain. I was sitting in my college computer room, typing away at the latest in a series of papers on gender roles written for 12 Yale English classes, when I noticed that two of the four other people in the room were writing Rhodes scholarship essays. A third was updating his résumé.

As senior year lumbers towards its close, the ease of experience and comfort of familiar surroundings have given way to the anxiety of deciding what comes next. Of the people I had as freshman roommates, one is applying to East coast consulting firms and Midwestern dry goods corporations; one hopes to live recklessly in Prague or China, providing she can find a way to support herself; one wants to produce a television sitcom; one plans to become a feminist chemist; and the other hopes to find gainful employment at a small newspaper in Mon­tana.

Although our plans vary, we share a common nervousness, a sense that we have lost our footing. Suddenly what is at stake is not the difference between an A or a B, a dean’s excuse or a bad grade, but the difference be­tween getting in or changing plans, having a job or moving back home, finding a place or being left to wander. And for those of us with student loan payments due in a few months, the future is scarier. Travel, graduate school, even living alone and getting by will be difficult.

I went to a résumé-writing workshop last fall looking for guidance, a trick, the key to finding a job. Six of us, four seniors and two graduate students, sat at a round table, complimenting each other, offering tentative criticism: Spell out the words you abbreviate, make your margins even, try a different font. There is no perfect formula for a résumé, our group leader reassured us.

A friend of mine who graduated last year told me over the phone that the reason I was anxious was because there will never be a path as essentially right as going to college. Law school, teaching, working in New York are all fine choices, but none of them will ever be as obvious as going to Yale was. I think of her words a lot these days, as I send out cover letters, tinker with my résumé, and devise backup plans.

Lately, it seems the freshmen have it easy.

Filed under 1990s
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