Lies and Untruths

Peter Gillette

After a few years of editing this fine newspaper, I’m back this year with a column. But what am I doing back, anyway?
I’m asked this a good ten times a day. “I thought you graduated,” some will say, while others will phrase it more certainly: “Didn’t you graduate?” There are a few wits, of course, who feel comfortable enough around me to open the conversation with some clever variant on “Didn’t we get rid of you yet?”
“Back for another term?” “Finishing up one more class?” “You’re not here for the whole year, are you?” are other favorites.
Then there is the baffled stare, or – my personal favorite – the nervous, delightfully oblivious wave from friendly freshmen who are not yet that jaded.
You see, I am one of a not-as-rare-as-one-might-think breed, the Super Senior. We hide out everywhere, hunched into our rooms, sadly dialing all of our departed friends who are off doing things that are much more interesting than a fifth year at Lawrence, wonderful lives comprised of office work and paying rent.
To a one, these departed friends speak of nostalgia for Lawrence. Geez, it’s only been three months! “I wish I were there!” they croon. “But what of the shame?” I ask them.
“The shame?”
Oh yes, the shame. You see, the night before graduation in June, I was taking a late-night meal at one of Appleton’s finest dining establishments, the Wooden Nickel, when a bright young lady – who was, among other things, my Latin tutor for a time – asked me why I wasn’t at the graduation rehearsal.
“I’m not graduating,” I mumbled between chipper bites.
“Oh, I see,” she said, rather finally. But she continued with words that have haunted me ever since: “So … are you a double-degree student, or just a screw-up?”
She didn’t say “screw-up.” The word she used was decidedly devoid of Latinate origin, but you get the picture. It got me to wondering which I was.
I am, of course, a double-degree student, a candidate for the Bachelor of Music and the Bachelor of Arts in English, but doing this – was it a good idea?
This week, I saw a few “college” professors trying to look comfortable sitting around and waiting for advising meetings in the con, and a few bright-eyed overachievers convinced that a fifth year is a terribly great idea. I think, perhaps, that this is where all screw-ups begin and, eventually, end: in advising sessions.
Don’t get me wrong. Double degrees are a good idea. It’s a strong program. It keeps enrollment up, which is great for business. But really, if you’re a freshman or sophomore considering whether or not you’ll want a fifth year, consider this: isn’t 16 years in a row of uninterrupted schooling enough?
You will excuse my pessimism, though, I hope, when I tell you the final phrase I’ve been hearing a lot:
“So, what, are you going to be the next Phred Beattie?”
If you know that name, or if it sounds even vaguely familiar, watch out. Chances are fair that you might just have a bit of “screw-up” in you too.

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