I read Patrick Bevan’s “A Penny for Pat’s Thoughts” column in The Quill with great interest, because whether you call it a “senior slump” or an attack of the dreaded disease “senioritis,” as a teacher and administrator over the years I have worked hard to push against a tide of diminished academic effort and achievement in the springtime, particularly among seniors. On one hand, I understand that there is a natural tendency to take the foot off the accelerator and coast a little near the end of high school. The precious days together among classmates become few in number, and one’s attention begins to focus more on graduation and summer and the college days that lie beyond rather than the daily tasks of high school. Such a change in perspective is natural and even healthy as a young man approaches a major transition in life. But I want to argue that simply allowing oneself to become lazy or to think that falling into a slump is some sort of inalienable right or senior privilege is totally misguided. Senioritis is not an unavoidable disease, deemed acceptable because of its inevitability. Falling into a senior slump is a choice – a bad choice. I believe this for several reasons.
Some of those reasons have to do my concerns about how a senior slump could impact college admissions or achievement. Slacking off during senior spring may weaken study skills and prevent the acquisition of core knowledge, and thus make the transition to college level work more difficult. Doing well in school often requires consistent practice and a persistent effort that cannot be turned “on” nearly as easily as it can be turned “off” – I believe it is better to keep the effort button in the “on” position at all times, so to speak. I also believe the statistics that I have read indicating that seniors who “slump” perform significantly worse than those who don’t on the math, foreign language and composition college entrance and placement exams that many schools require in order to advance into higher level classes or earn an exemption from core requirements. If you do poorly on these exams, you cheat yourself out of the benefits you could have gained had you kept your effort up all the way through high school. This could end up meaning that it takes an extra semester or more to graduate college, a situation that costs you and your parents thousands of dollars. I also want to point out that universities are in the business of admitting more freshmen than can ever actually matriculate, given space constraints. Schools know that some students they accept will go to other institutions, but they hope they admit the right number to start the year with “full” freshmen class. Indeed, I remember my own freshman year at college that began slightly above the “fill students to here” line. Some of my classmates were living in temporary beds in the common lounge areas of my dorm building for the first few weeks of school until the ranks of the freshman class thinned a little in the first month or so of classes. When colleges end up with more students than they can manage, sometimes they start looking for reasons to do what they call “rescind the offer of admission.” Seniors, take note! The “fine print” on your college acceptance letter may indicate that your enrollment in the freshman class is actually provisional; that is, it’s dependent on the “successful completion of your high school requirements.” Colleges can interpret “successful completion” in a number of ways. Failing a class would be a pretty obvious red flag, but even going from being an A/B student to a C/D student in the third or fourth quarter might be interpreted as “unsuccessful” if your school of choice needed to trim down its numbers.
But these reasons aren’t really my main reasons for believing that succumbing to senioritis is a bad decision. More than anything, I don’t want you to slide into a senior slump because I know you are capable of more and to slump would be to let yourself down. We all have good days and not so good days in life, weeks where things go great and weeks where things aren’t so great. Whether we are measuring our successes and failures by grades in the classes we take, by our effort and level of focus in sports or music practice or drama rehearsal, or by even more important things, like how kindly and generously we treat one another, or how often we provide help to someone in need and expect nothing in return – no matter what, we cannot be perfect all the time. But we are called at all times to try to be our best selves, to be the men (and women) that God intends us to be. It’s okay to come up short sometimes. But every day is a new opportunity to try to do our best, to be our best selves. We are called to do nothing less.
In school, as in life, you have to try.
Don’t tarnish years of hard work with a few weeks of sloth. Savor your remaining time at Mount Saint Joe; the days are indeed precious. Don’t do anything that you will regret later on, don’t regret later that you chose not to do your best work now, at the end of your time here at school. You know in your hearts how to make the right decisions. So make them. And when school is done, I look forward to welcoming you into the ranks of Mount Saint Joseph alumni.
Mr. Greg McDivitt
MSJ Class of ’86