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Monday, October 20, 2014

Column: Senior year of college is the last chance to get it right

I fear this senior year will turn out like the last.

Nate Atkins

March 9, 2014

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

It’s time to stop pretending like everything is perfect when nothing ever is. I’m not writing this column this semester only because I’m bursting with school pride. I’m writing this because I’m scared.

I’m scared the memories I form will be unfulfilling yet impossible to forget. Those are the worst kind. They stand in contrast to the ones you built up in your head while lying awake late at night, or standing under a hot shower, or whenever you’re in a place where the world can’t enter your mind. You close your eyes and fill them with visions of yourself that you want to be real, and if you do that long enough, you start to believe you’re writing the story of your own life.

In short, I fear this senior year will turn out like the last.

Four and a half years ago, I was staring into the dawn of my first senior year, then at Ashland High School in Ashland, Ohio. I was a writer then, but I wish I had written about emotional, personal things like this. Maybe it would have been easier to hold onto hope when things began to fall apart.

That was supposed to be the best year of my life. I was going to finally become the football player I wanted to be. I was going to earn my way in the University of North Carolina. I was going to have all of these friends, and together, we’d rule the school. The Friday nights spent under the lights, the dances that just wouldn’t end — they were going to weave this scrapbook we’d never have to forget.

Instead, it was the worst year of my life. I sat out football season because the game wasn’t worth the concussions it kept giving me. I got rejected from North Carolina on the final day of announcements. I became a machine in the way I churned out newspaper and school work. I made myself mostly unavailable on the weekends as a result, and when I was free, nobody ever asked me to do anything.

I lost 20 pounds that year. I lost almost every friend I had. I was the worst person I’ve ever met, and I was the only person who had to be around him all the time.

It’s in the cinematic nature of society to build senior year up to be this grand finale before the curtains draw to a close. We’ve lived 18 years of our lives in this daily school grind with the same people in the same town. This is the last year. One life is ending and we want to write the script.

My senior year was everything wrong with high school bundled into a colossal mess: desperation for acceptance, desire for material accolades and destiny for verification from those who are watching. I thought accomplishing things would scratch all off the list, but satisfaction isn’t the son of showmanship. It comes from showing yourself you’re who you want to be.

I wish I had written about this then. I wish I had written about the emotions I wanted to receive rather than the materialistic verifications. Maybe then I could have simply lived and been happy. Maybe then I wouldn’t be writing to you now.

But my last senior year taught me something about finales: the best ones take place at the beginning, but the people and places have become something new.

So here I am, writing to you now, trying to get all this down while I still can. There are 65 days separating me from knowing how it will finish.

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