Over my years of chaplaincy I’ve noticed a trend among seniors. I think that sharing my observations will help you to place yourself in these strenuous days.
In the spring of the senior year, and every now and then in the late fall, when you hoped you’d have your best times of all, things tend to fall apart. Relationships — with people you’ve depended on for years, people you love, someone you’ve never argued with — suddenly fall apart or become excruciating, limiting, annoying or meaningless.
Behaviors change suddenly. You may decide to become a vegan, to dump your former plans and do something wild, engage in behavior unlike your usual style. What used to be inspiring, worthy, golden, fun may become dull and empty. The world feels strange, you may not recognize yourself in it, and you may feel a stranger to yourself.
While you are feeling strange, others are too. Conversations don’t proceed at the usual pattern. Places of comfort now offer only tension. Your feelings, friends, parents and faculty may surprise you — you may surprise yourself.
Your fuse may be very short, your ability to tolerate the usual ambiguity nil. We’re all in a transition together and the community seems strange and difficult all around, especially for seniors among other seniors.
Seniors also have this wonderful habit of putting their education to work in the final semester — on your university. You begin to perceive all the flaws of our system and community, you’ll be moved to critique and improve Elon. It feels like your last chance to make a difference around here.
All in all, nothing feels terribly stable, everything is at stake and chaos — internal and external — seems to reign.
You’re getting ready to leave, obviously. You’re off to a job, marriage, grad school, travel, all those plans that draw you. Some of you don’t even want to be here right now, you’re so ready to be gone. Some of you don’t want to think about leaving at all, and may fantasize about another year near Elon.
What’s not so obvious is that you and the whole community are immersed in a kind of anticipatory grief, in a process of letting go of one security in order to be prepared to build and embrace another.
While it is frightening, insecure, sad, happy, wild, awful and wonderful, this moment is a normal and very difficult part of young adult development. Reinhold Neibuhr called this experience “shipwreck” — being empty handed before grasping some new and better reality.
During this time, it may help to know that while it’s not fun, this process is normal. You’re not crazy. We’re all grieving, shifting, journeying and preparing, both separately and together.
Students also shouldn’t shy away from spending moments alone in quiet. When you are alone, and silent, your feelings emerge. You’ll eventually have to feel what you feel, why not go ahead and do it now, while you have good support.
Grief can be scary, but it’s healthy and normal. Prayer, meditation, quiet can seem threatening, but will give you new hope, and will be especially helpful right now. The prayer and meditation rooms, or isolated corners of the Numen Lumen Pavilion, are available to you. Attend to yourself, and sustain healthy sleep, eating, exercise and leisure patterns. The grief process takes physical energy and our bodies can help us manage them better.
Make what difference you can, knowing that not everything is really under your control. It’s a time to be patient, to learn to trust, to exercise faith in the future, in your choices, in yourself and your friends. It’s not going to absolutely fall apart, and you don’t personally have to hold it all together.
Finally, remember that you are a vital part of this community. You matter to all of us. What you’re feeling, thinking, doing, and bearing makes a difference to the rest of us.
We have many reasons to rejoice and you are the most visible of these reasons, the signs of our success and accomplishments. The rest of us take much pride in you. Don’t forget, you are the reason Elon exists and will continue to exist.
I hope and pray this helps. I’m happy to talk with you about these matters, in person or by email. Please let me know if I can do anything for you as we journey together.