If you’re as nerdy a senior as I am, you’re at least a tiny bit upset that you’ve just completed your last pre-registration. Because, come on: Pre-registration is the best part of the semester. You get to browse through an expansive list of fascinating courses taught by smart people and think about all this stuff you’re going to know – but you don’t actually have to do any of the work yet. It’s a much better feeling than at the end of the semester, when even the best courses – perhaps especially the best courses – can leave you still so curious about the topic.
Personally, I’ve always reacted strongly to the superlative “last.” To an extent, senior year can seem like a series of lasts. Especially at a school where 96 percent of students say they would choose to come here again if they had to do it all over, the fact that each component of the college experience is turning from tradition to memory is predictably upsetting.
This last pre-registration was, for me, a poignant reminder of how rewarding I have found my academic experience and of how the logic of lasts applies to the college experience as a whole. I’ll almost surely never live in such close proximity to so many of my friends, for example, or in easy walking distance of anything I could wish for.
My intention here is not to wax sentimental about the wonders of the undergraduate experience or to encourage seniors to “make the most of every moment.” Instead, I’ll point to something I’ve been lucky to become quite familiar with at Georgetown: philosophy. One last that I’ve been thinking about is the last periodic email that philosophy majors receive from our major advisor containing an article that will help convince our parents that majoring in philosophy is worthwhile. Philosophy students are accustomed to quite a few people thinking your choice of study is slightly ridiculous, but I suppose you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s almost gone.
Anyway, if you were lucky enough to take a course with Fr. James Schall, S.J. – who delivered his own memorable last lecture last year – you very well might have come across this line from Plato’s “Phaedo:” “It seems to me natural that a man who has really devoted his life to philosophy should be cheerful in the face of death and confident of finding the greatest blessing in the next world when his life is finished.”
This might seem like a grim portrait of the end of senior year. Rest assured, I’m not implying that seniors will drop dead May 18. I do, however, think this passage has a lot to teach us broadly about the end of things. In the passage, Socrates encourages an intrigued Cebes to consider the fact that an individual who has truly developed her character before the end of her worldly life has a great deal to look forward to in the afterlife, where that character becomes the currency of one’s existence. In much the same way, who we have become here on the Hilltop will define us in our future endeavors in various ways. Because so many of us would not choose to have attended college anywhere else, I do think we have strong reasons to be cheerful in the face of all of these lasts.
Now, if four years of philosophy courses have taught me anything, it’s that Socrates is history’s biggest buzzkill. I’m not suggesting that seniors should forego all of our nostalgia and trepidation about the onslaught of lasts. But the point of a college education – particularly a Jesuit one – is to take on the challenges of the real world with vigor. No, I’ll never again get to scroll through the next semester’s courses and imagine how they’ll all provide me with great quotes to use in future columns for The Hoya. I will, however, get to experience the transition from lasts to firsts. And, at the end of the day, I think that’s even better.
Nicholas Dirago is a senior in the College. This is the final appearance of CURMUDGEON’S CORNER this semester.