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Sophomore blues

| Thursday, September 12, 2019

For the last two years, my little sister has kept a running tab of the ridiculous things I say on her phone. Rather un-creatively titled, “The Julianna Quotes,” it ranges from more alarming sound bytes such as, “add her to the list of people I want to sedate” to admittedly absurd queries: “Does this sweater make me look like I’m Tanya Harding’s cousin watching her compete?” My sister’s favorite quote by far, though, is “Tall people are just regular people with long legs.”

I imparted this groundbreaking insight on my sister at the end of a particularly meaningful discussion about advice for high school, and while the sage wisdom of its meaning was clearly lost on her, I still stand by what I said.

A massive over-thinker, I find myself easily intimidated by other people. For the better part of my existence, I’ve lived in fear of my statuesque peers, assuming, for some unknown reason, that their extra eight inches of leg made them immeasurably cooler than my 5’5” self.

As it turns out, height does not make the person, and my tall friends’ worlds are just the same as mine — except they’re able to reach the dresses hanging on the highest hooks in department stores.

Luckily, my fear of tall people was assuaged before coming to Notre Dame (Hi, freshman year quadmate and 5’10” basketball player, Katlyn Gilbert), but I still entered with unrealistic associations attached to people around me. 

When I met the sophomores in my section freshman year, they seemed like they had their lives in order. These girls were just a year older, but they had solid friend groups, declared majors and a sense of confidence about them. I was undeclared and I came to Notre Dame knowing just one other person on campus. I looked up to these girls as role models, watching them host parties with their dorm friends, gossip in each other’s rooms and offer freshmen advice with an all-knowing authority. I couldn’t wait until the next year, when I, too, would have the answers. 

As freshman year moved on, I found wonderful friends, got involved with activities I loved, and generally began feeling like I knew where I belonged on campus. I’d found my stride. When the time came, I applied to be a Welcome Weekend Ambassador, eager to be that same pillar of cool composure the section girls had been for me, a shining beacon of hope to all the nervous freshmen. 

Unlike freshman year, when I came to campus this August, I arrived with a best friend, a residence hall full of people I already knew and loved and a comfort discussing the “college lifestyle”.

So why did I feel out of sorts?

As the flurry of Welcome Weekend festivities slowed to the regular pace of Notre Dame life, I realized that something was off. Even though I knew far more people than last year, smiled at more faces in the halls and had more answers than questions, I couldn’t help feeling lost. Much to my chagrin, I couldn’t feel less like the sophomore girls I revered the year before, and I couldn’t figure out why. I liked my classes, my friends, my activities. My malaise wasn’t adding up.

For a moment, I worried it was just me. Maybe I had low blood sugar or I was just tired. When I began talking to junior girls in my dorm, though, those same girls who seemed like “perky” sophomores, I realized what I was feeling is typical. Defined by the New York Times as “The Sophomore Slump,” many students feel a sense of ennui their second year when the sparkly excitement and the exhilarating freedom of the fresh beginning of freshman year fades.

Junior Kelly Moran, explains: “At the end of freshman year, I reminisced on how fun the year was and how far I had come making so many new wonderful friends, passing general chemistry, choosing my major. Going to sophomore [year], I was excited to start my ‘real’ coursework, thinking I was done with introductory classes. I came to realize sophomore classes are still introductory … but much tougher. … [You aren’t] cut any slack.”

Though Moran discussed the transition academically, her wisdom applies socially as well. There is an expectation that once freshman year is over, so are our struggles, but life and its many trials don’t end after our first year. The only thing that changes is our attitude towards them — the slack we cut ourselves for being human.

Freshman year is flagged as a period of change. There are movies about first semesters in college, at least seven Observer Viewpoint columns published this semester offering first-year advice and a general understanding that your transition to college life may not be seamless.

Freshman year is supposed to be hard at first, to be full of homesickness, full of questions. Sophomore year, though, you’re meant to have it figured out. There’s a general expectation that you know who to sit with in the dining hall, that you have a solidified friend group for football games and a realized career path you’re excited about. That’s a lot of pressure to put on one completed year of college — a lot of pressure to put on any stage of your life.

Sophomore year is undefined. Freshman year we’re babies, our Notre Dame futures laid out in front us, ripe for the taking. Junior and senior year we’re kings of the hill and experienced veterans of the college world. But as sophomores, we’re still finding our place.

Sophomore Mia Lecinski looks at the uncharted territory as a positive.

“It’s really nice to enter a school year where no one is telling me how I should feel,” she said.

I second that comment, adding that in being free to experience our own story, we must free ourselves to feel whatever emotions we need to positive or not.

At times, there can be an overwhelming sense of obligation to be perfect, to have the answers, but it is our duty as the next set of role models to be real. It is our duty to be vulnerable. 

Junior Meg Burns complained to me last year as a sophomore, “I feel like we don’t create spaces for people to have emotions other than joy or neutrality… which is why sometimes I cry to my mom in the stairwell or out on a bench.”

For the people out there feeling the sophomore slump, I ask you to create that space for yourselves, for the freshmen looking up to you and for the other students who feel out of sorts and alone in feeling that way. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, despite a campus expectation for everyone to be happy at all times. Stop crying in the stairwell and cry on the shoulder of a friend. Text your friends with good news, but text them with your sad news, too. Allow yourself to be honest and brave and real. Feel all the things sophomore brings, and feel them with an open, unafraid heart.

Just because we’re done being freshmen doesn’t mean we’re done being flawed. Tall people are just regular people with long legs. Sophomores are just freshmen who completed their first year.

Julianna Conley loves cereal, her home state of California and the em dash. A sophomore in Pasquerilla East, if Julianna can’t be found picnicking on North Quad, she can be reached for comment 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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