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My mid-college crisis

| Tuesday, September 1, 2015

It was triggered by wanting to switch my theology class. As a first-semester junior, I was taking Foundations of Theology. Why am I such a late bloomer? One might say my academic trajectory at Notre Dame has been slightly off-kilter. I came into college excited for … college! I had no thoughts about what I would do afterwards.

I entered the College of Arts and Letters as a gung-ho Program of Liberal Studies and French double major intent. “Hmmm,” adults would tilt their heads. “What do you plan to do with that?”

I did not know. I was studying what sounded fun. I would figure something out when I graduated. I had not thought that far ahead.

My physics teacher suggested I pursue engineering, but I had heard engineers had miserable college experiences. They studied themselves to death. They spent hours hunched over tiny screens, editing code. That did not sound fun to me, and I had done what I considered fun my whole life, dancing in tutus and singing “doo-doo”s in my a capella club.

And school. I always loved school — every subject — and I wanted to be around other people who loved school, too. I was undeniably drawn to the humanities, where students stayed after class to exchange quirky quips with wise, wizened professors.

Come sophomore year, though, I was missing math and science. I was tired of my STEM friends making jabs at my “Arts and Crafts” major. I could do math and science in high school, and I was actually awkwardly good at it. I even awkwardly enjoyed it.

So I figured, hey, I’ll become an engineer. My parents did not mind.

Boy, was I in for a surprise. I could not believe that I, this ballerina with a bow in her hair, was not failing. True, when it came to programming, I was captain of the struggle bus. I had missed Intro to Engineering, aka intro to the wonderful world of Matlab, so I was quite lost with all the lingo. I spent many a night wanting to squeeze the computers in the engineering library to death after getting a million errors and having no idea what they meant (die, Unix, die).

Yet, I grasped the concepts of physics, calculus and even mechanics fairly well. Surprise! I even performed well on tests. My Solid Mechanics bridge was barely long enough to span the gap between test machines, but I wrote a redeeming lab report. I still could not fix my bike.

Fast forward this fall of my junior year, as I am finally catching up on University requirements thanks to my late entry to engineering. In my second class meeting for Foundations of Theology, we watched four movie clips. Danger danger: I felt my IQ dropping to concerning levels. I was thinking critically about the class instead of the text. This was not PLS.

I met with the director of the PLS program, begging to be let into the PLS theology class. Could I please, please, please study Jewish and Christian texts, expanding the historical, analytical and spiritual part of my mind that I had neglected during my engineer year?

PLS theology was reserved for PLS majors. I could take my chances with an open spot for a non-major, but with the growing size of the PLS department, there were no guarantees.

Hey, I thought, I could double major — I could dual degree. I could do mechanical engineering AND PLS. I could do it all.

I could not do it all. I would have to fund a $60,000 fifth year of school. I would probably not walk with my class. I would be overwhelmed, torn between two worlds. Hannah Montana could have the Best of Both Worlds, but I could not.

I took an emotional walk on the Notre Dame golf course à la Zac Efron, brooding over my life choices. Why couldn’t I do everything I loved all at once? I could not pay. I could not convince. I could not get out of the golf course.

A NDSP officer had just locked the gate and could not find the key. “Looks like you’re gonna be fence-hopping tonight,” he told me. I thought he was joking. He was not.

I felt a tiny tear in my pants as I wiggled over the top. I let an expletive slip. That was unladylike, unErinlike.

I was confused and alone. Hot tears were approaching the starting line. Ready, set, go! Drip, drip, drop.

Thank God for dark nights. Others were going out. I was going crazy.

I needed God. My life was falling apart. I had a sudden desire to go to Jesus in the woods. I went.

Runaway tears mingled with goopy snot. I knew it: I was destined for poetic greatness. I blew my nasal discharge onto my recently purchased hipster green jacket (which apparently half the girls on the Notre Dame campus now own … there goes my make-believe hipster status).

There were bugs crawling down my shirt. I phoned a friend, went back to my dorm and ate some of my roommate’s chocolate-covered dried mango slices. I typed out my feelings on my unfeeling computer. I closed the PLS and Class Search tabs on my computer. I put my computer to sleep. Melatonin put me to sleep.

Breathe in, breathe out. I am alive, no matter what happens. Unless I die. But while I am having these thoughts, I am alive, so it is going to be okay. It is going to be okay.

Erin Thomassen likes listening to string instruments tuning. Please come tune violins and cellos near her window in Pasquerilla East Hall, preferably in the next two years, as she is a junior. She can be reached at [email protected]

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

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About Erin Thomassen

I am a freshman double majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and French. PLS (aka the Notre Dame Book Club) is the history of ideas through literature, philosophy, math and science. It was the perfect major for me, because I couldn't possibly choose one subject and hurt the other subjects' feelings. French was also a natural pick, since I have been prancing around my house under the pretense of performing ballet for eighteen years. If someone asks me what I do in my free time, I will tell them that I run and read. What I actually do is eat cartons of strawberries and knit lumpy scarves. If you give me fresh fruit, we will be friends. If we become friends, I will knit you a scarf for Christmas. It may be lumpy, but it will be in your favorite color. And if enough people become my friend, lumpy scarves might just become a trend.

Contact Erin