Ask a fifth-year

Drew Baumgartner

Dear Drew,
I’m a freshman, and I think this senior is into me. I’m totally stoked. My friends think it’s a bad idea, but I’ve always been pretty mature. How should I proceed?
-Sought-after in Sage

Dear Sought-after,
As a rule, Sought-after, you should proceed with caution and patience. While this is pretty good advice for anyone vetting a potential romantic interest, this goes double for any dating freshman year – especially with upperclassmen. There’s probably a reason the conventional wisdom advises against such relationships, but what could it be?
My guess is that, in some point in history, two completely immature people, in spite of agreeing that they’re like all the other May-December campus romances, knowing full well they will probably break up horribly within a couple months, decided to throw caution to the wind and go for it anyway. Wait, that’s a terrible guess, because nobody considers themselves immature, nobody assumes that they’re just like everyone else, and nobody goes into a relationship thinking it will end horribly.
The conventional wisdom wasn’t designed for idiots, but everyday people who consider themselves exceptions to the rules. I’ve made many a mistake assuming the former, only to prove the latter.
The fact is, Sought-after, that any relationship with this senior probably doesn’t have any worse odds than any other relationship on campus. That is, you’ll probably date this person for a while, but that’ll be it. Maybe it will end amicably, maybe some feelings will be hurt. The fact that you’re a freshman shouldn’t have too much of a pull on those odds.
Actually, the reason freshman-upperclassmen relationships are generally advised against isn’t because the relationship will tend to be worse for one of the people being a freshman, but that the freshman will tend to be worse for having been in the relationship. Freshman year is a time of self-discovery, and perhaps your first chance to assert your individuality, and relationships are generally seen as a distraction from that soul-searching.
In that way, I guess freshman-upperclassmen romances are not any worse than the freshman-freshman variety; you just hear about them more because the upperclassmen are supposed to know better.
Dear Drew,
I graduated as an English major from LU over 50 years ago, in ’57. Taught high school for 35 years. Can you help me understand why so many of my fellow students then, who were slugs as academics, now are so wealthy? Unlike me, donating big bucks annually? What advice do you have to give to your underclass peers for facing the possibility many others who walk about campus beside them will one day far exceed them in wealth?
-Ted Beranis ’57

I must say, Mr. Beranis, I’m quite flattered you’re interested in my opinion. This wasn’t exactly the type of question I set out to answer with the column, but I did promise I would do my best to answer any question I receive, so here goes nothing.
Due to the strong correlation between grades and earning power, it’s easy for us to forget equal great wealth, but I think you
outlined a great example in your
question. I’d bet that your sluggish
classmates didn’t earn their money
teaching English. You may have
been equipped to far outmatch
them in English teaching abilities,
but that is not the only way to earn
a living.
As another example, I’ve
known several philosophy majors
to be among the most academic
students, but I’m not sure they’ve
set themselves up to earn more
than say, a computer science
major. How do we measure the
value of these fields of study?
“Academicness?” “Bankability?” I
think the answer lies in the enjoyment
of the individual student.
I suspect from my other interactions
with you, Mr. Beranis, on
the Lawrentian.com Web site, that
you wouldn’t like that answer, but I
think that’s the way my peers tend
to think about their undergraduate
degree. Sure, I’ve run into students
forced into an econ major by their
“practical” parents, but those are
few and far between these days,
especially on a liberal arts campus.
In fact, I’d say that this philosophy
has extended into the job hunt,
where many people are seeking
intellectually fulfilling jobs over
the boring cash cows.
There’s really no way to tell
who will be earning the big bucks
come my 50th reunion. Between
the versatility of the liberal arts
degree and the circuitous ways one
can find wealth, guessing is probably
an exercise in futility. Will it
be the future Fulbright scholar, or
the future used car salesman? For
all I know, they’re the same person.
Have a question? Send it to Drew at
baumgara@lawrence.edu.

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