What makes the last few weeks of the spring semester so much more enjoyable than the last few weeks of the fall semester? Is it the sunshine? The prospect of summer on the horizon? The series of events like Bacchanal and College Days? Maybe it’s all of these things, but it’s clear that there’s something about the end of the year that makes it possible for us to look beyond our assignments every once in a while and enjoy ourselves. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the way social life starts to pick up on campus. Toward the end of fall, all my friends disappear; toward the end of spring, they come out of the woodwork. Everyone’s still busy, and people still cancel plans because they have papers to write, but in the spring, they reschedule those plans. There’s an intentionality in the way people hang out with each other that’s not really replicated at any other time (except maybe at the very beginning of the year).
For a campus like Columbia, home of the “let’s totally hang out! … sometime …,” this is pretty unusual. Why should the end of the year be any different from the rest of the year? There are a few factors that contribute to this. First of all, it sounds like a cliché, but when the weather brightens up, so do people’s outlooks on life. Sunshine after the gray days of winter gives the campus a boost of energy that makes us more likely to wave and smile when we pass someone we know or spend time catching up with people we randomly run into. (It’s hard to stop and chat when it’s rainy and cold.) Also, warm weather makes it easier to hang out with your friends. You can say, “Let’s chill on Low Steps,” so you won’t have to deal with signing anyone in or spending money on anything. And with everyone outside trying to catch up on Vitamin D, there’s a greater chance you’ll run into that friend you haven’t seen all semester. Another factor is the number of end-of-the-year traditional events, such as the ones I mentioned above. We run into each other, we make plans to hang out, and then we do … it’s a better chain reaction than anything we ever learned in chemistry.
But more than anything else, the difference between fall and spring semester is the sense of urgency. This doesn’t only apply to seniors. That spirit trickles down to everyone else on campus. After all, we scatter during the summer, all over the world, and most of the people we care about won’t be anywhere near us. So we come together to hang out and have a newfound appreciation for our friends, as we near the point in time when we have to say goodbye (at least temporarily).
There’s nothing wrong with this—we’d be pretty hardhearted people if we didn’t get a tiny bit sentimental toward the end of the year. Ends and “last times” are good for reminding us what, exactly, we care about, and sometimes we can see things more clearly when we’re about to leave them. But what worries me is that it seems like we forget to appreciate our friends, just like we forget to write our papers until the last possible moment. Sometimes, the sense of urgency can become a state of panic. These people are awesome, but we’ve been holed up in our dorms doing work for the past month, and now we have only a few weeks left! How could we have failed to hang out with them as much as possible? We’ll never be so shortsighted again! In my experience, though, we go right back to our old habits, losing sight of everything except our work.
What we need is to cultivate the type of intentional hanging out that this sense of urgency creates. We don’t need to be panicked all the time about the end of our college careers, but we do need to be more aware of our friends and the ways we appreciate them while they, and we, are still here. For those of us who are returning in the fall, I challenge us all to make the most of our close proximity to the people we care about and be so deliberate about hanging out that we don’t have to panic when springtime rolls around.
Kathryn Brill is a Barnard College junior majoring in English. She is a member of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. We Should Talk runs alternate Tuesdays.