Things have changed; it’s going to suck; embrace the suck.
by Sally Nelson
Class of 2017: prepare for what will be the hardest year of your college career.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Some student tank, academically or socially, their junior or senior years. Some freshmen party too hard. But for many, the illusion of stability and understanding cemented at the end of freshman year shatters by the middle of sophomore year. Combined with emotional, social, and academic pressure, that shattering can make sophomore year your most stressful, challenging year.
Academics, the center of your college experience, will get much harder than you are used to or expect. Especially for students taking the new core—which splits up the GPA-wrecking duo of Great Books I and Western Heritage—your workload will grow much heavier. Part of this is just an appearance: you might feel busier because you are more plugged into extracurricular activities like the Greek system, the Collegian, or your sports team.
But part of this stems from reality—you are now expected to perform on par with upperclassmen who have studied your topic more, know each other and how to study much better, and have better relationships with your professor. Work that might have set you apart from other freshmen now pales next to to a senior writing an honors thesis on your topic.
Further, social circles get somehow messier and more dramatic. Friendships die over the summer, breakups splinter friend groups, and the exciting newness of freshman year is gone.
But hardest of all, Hillsdale can seem like an entirely different school than the one you grew to love your freshman year. Certainly, much about Hillsdale remains the same: people will always talk too loudly in the library, the line to Saga—or whatever we’re calling it now—will take twice as long on Mondays, and not enough students will attend the football games.
Yet the three hundred seniors you looked up to last year are gone, pursuing careers and marriages and lives separate from you and your world at Hillsdale. The off-campus houses you spent hours at—watching Gossip Girl in the backroom at the Treehouse, reading poetry at the Donnybrook, or Just Dance parties at the West Bank—have new identities, probably distant from those of their previous tenants. The Love Shack has a new name, Rivendell is gone, and the Palace doesn’t throw the same parties. Those losses feel all the more acute when you see one of the three-hundred odd freshmen sit in the booth you always sat at with a senior friend.
Sophomore year presents to you more and harder choices than you had to make freshman year, and that’s what makes it so difficult. You can either choose to work hard and learn from upperclassmen or you can continue working at a freshman level and stagnate academically. You can dive into your reading, homework, projects, and research or you can coast on the 3.89 you got last year. You can create new traditions and make new off-campuses houses feel like home or you can live in the memories you made last year. You can welcome the freshmen into your friend groups even though it’s painful and frustrating because you just can’t explain to them how cool Annie Laurie Setten is or what it was like to have Abi Wood as a mentor or how much fun it was being around Garrett Holt. Or you can ignore them because they just don’t get it.
You can choose to love people despite your stress, pain, and all of the varied feelings sophomore year entails. This is the choice to “love your neighbors actively and tirelessly” that Father Zosima presents in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brother’s Karamazov. It’s is the choice that Class President Josh Andrew talked about in his wonderful commencement speech this spring, “a choice that appeared sensible at the time, and whose ramifications we did not understand. And that was the choice to love. To give ourselves to each other, to do this education together, transient and permeable as we are.” If you haven’t read it, do. It’s on the Collegian’s website.
Sophomore year can be a beautiful, soul-enriching kind of hard or the kind of hard that makes you consider dropping out—or both.
It’s up to you.
Sally Nelson ’14 studied English and was a member of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale. She works as a wedding photographer and freelance writer and, in October, will marry Nick O’Donnell ’14.