October 31, 2010

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I have been there. I have woken up at 6:55 in the morning. I have seen the last seat disappear as the course lay idle in my Shopping Cart. Preparing to graduate this spring, my relationship with CoursEnroll is long and complicated, filled with memories of frustration, jubilation and relief. As I woke up at 10:30 a.m. last week to register for my final semester’s classes, however, something felt strange and unprecedented. I have no more distribution requirements. I already have more than the 120 credits needed to graduate. I stared at the university-wide course roster with more choices than I ever imagined and froze. This is a scenario all Cornell students envision, contemplate and await. In trying to register for what could be the last academic classes I ever take, I was overwhelmed with a newfound freedom.

Cursing CoursEnroll or dreading the requirement you must fulfill next semester is a rite of passage. For six or seven semesters, we are all cogs in the system, following the academic plan and lineage we signed up for when we sent our first deposit to Cornell. Your whole undergraduate career, someone gives you direction, a path to follow. Once a senior, however, there is no shepherd, and you can choose any four classes. What are your interests, your passions? Art? Music? History? It is actually pretty difficult to anticipate this latitude, and the decision, on which courses to take with this newfound freedom, is not an easy one.

If all this seems overly dramatic, it is and it isn’t. Ultimately, there is no pressure in CoursEnroll. In your last semester, you can take Wines, Human Sexuality, Stardom and Squash, call it a day and never look back. In another respect, however, CoursEnroll can be seen as an extended metaphor carrying much greater consequences. When we graduate and leave Ithaca, much of the predetermination and structure of the last four years stays behind. After college there are no “requirements.” We all have values and desires that shape our career choices and life decisions, but it is hard to prepare for the freedom we are immediately given.

Though probably the most obvious, choosing a job or career is only one of the many important decisions that must be made after graduation. Deciding where to live and finding an apartment in a large city is a complex task. While rent seems expensive in Collegetown, affording housing in Manhattan or Boston for a recent graduate can be nearly impossible. Another daily task that becomes much more complicated outside of Collegetown is transportation. Being able to walk to class and the bars is a luxury that we tend to take for granted. Even dining in college is a relatively straightforward endeavor, especially for those students who eat in the dining halls. Trying to cook something that is both satisfying and edible is not so easy, as I have quickly learned this year.

Given all of these adjustments that must be made, it is somewhat ironic that students biggest concern is their post-graduation employment. Understandably, finding a job is crucial and necessary to support oneself. Once employed however, Cornell has actually prepared us well for succeeding at work. Working hard and interacting with others is something we perfect on a daily basis at school, and most students have internship experience in a professional setting. All of the other aspects of living on your own, however, are tasks we receive little training for while in college.

As we all tangle with CoursEnroll for spring semester, consider its analogous relationship to the decisions we must make after college. Freshmen and sophomores, you are likely facing multiple requirements and experiencing frustration as the one elective class you wanted to take is full. Despite your lack of choices, appreciate the stability this structure provides. Juniors, you are likely finishing up your requirements and have some ability to chose interesting electives. Do yourself a favor, get those last requirements out of the way so you can really experiment senior year. At the same time, however, start to consider how you will handle that power. Lastly, to all us seniors. In choosing the classes for our last semester, don’t be overwhelmed. Embrace this freedom, our decisions only get bigger and more ambiguous from here.

Shaun Werbelow is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be contacted at swerbelow@cornellsun.com. Second Opinion appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Shaun Werbelow