Back at home in Wausau, WI, my family is a part of a medium-sized Presbyterian…
Oh. My. Gosh. I did not expect to get here. Three weeks ago, I was telling people how April was never supposed to come, ever. April was a huge month for me and the completion of my senior honors thesis. I knew going into the fall semester that so much was scheduled to happen at the end of April that I just didn’t want it to ever come. Well, guess what? It’s May! April came and went. I’m gonna say that one more time because even I need to hear it: April came and went. Miraculously, we have survived the month, the semester, and the school year.
If you’ve known me for a little bit, you’ll know that this is nothing new. Some might claim that I’m a bit dramatic, so when I have a huge deadline or a ginormous workload due all around the same time, I act like it’s the end of the world as I know it. Because it is! Up until that struggle is overcome, I have never had to face anything like it. Then y’know I conquer it, get through it, and turn around just to get handed something new that pushes the envelope a little farther.
This cyclic academic (and maybe even life) experience doesn’t look like it’s going to disappear any time soon, and, as long as you stay enrolled, you will continue to have to meet increasing expectations that will match you as you learn and grow. There are some things that I’ve picked up along the way that I’d like to share with you, so I invite you to come on a little trip with me.
Before I moved in freshman year, I asked my friend if I needed to bring a backpack to college. Her brother was attending university at the time, so I figured she’d be able to answer the question I’d been deliberating for weeks. She responded with what some of y’all might be thinking right now: “How is that even a question?” Looking back now, it’s like, “Of course, you need a backpack. You’re going to class, where are you going to put all of your stuff, you buffoon.” But it was an honest question that I didn’t know the answer to. To give some context, it might be helpful to know that I am a first-generation college student, and a very soon-to-be graduate. This wasn’t common at all in my high school, so when teachers tried to scare us about the realities of college and growing up, they didn’t mention the little details, like if college kids use backpacks, notebooks, pencils. There were things that I just didn’t know, and it became very clear that unless I asked, everyone assumed I already knew. After berating me like a close friend does, she said “Duh, you need a backpack,” and other normal school supplies, and we moved on.
Of course, this is just one example of a time I did not know something. There are various things that each of us just have no idea about. Being in college, I became very familiar with the notion of conventional wisdom. If you’ve never heard of the term, these are concepts and knowledges that are widely known, understood, and accepted. An example would be like, “A bride wears a dress on their wedding day,” or “Exercise is good for you.” These are things people are widely familiar with and agree on. But, there comes a time when what is conventional wisdom for one person is completely new to someone else. What I’ve learned is what I’m going to give to you as a little action point. Challenge conventional wisdom. What I mean by that is challenge the very notion that everyone is in agreement or understanding of what’s going on.
There is nothing wrong with not knowing something, even when you feel like everyone else knows. Some of these things that we feel self-conscious or embarrassed for not knowing are absolutely preposterous. What I run into most often is people using vocab that I just have no shot of understanding. Sometimes it’s because they’re talking about something super niche with all this field-specific jargon and sometimes it’s because they’re of a different experience level than me, maybe they have an advanced degree while I’m still tinkering around in undergrad. Either way, people are forgetting that what they perceive as conventional wisdom or what they think everyone will understand is just not the case. And it’s actually more of a dig on them than it is on you because how did they get so high up that they know all these cool terms, but they forgot how to speak to normal or different people, how to communicate to the masses.
In these situations, what I do, and what I encourage you to do if you’re comfortable, is simply tell people when they say something you don’t understand. “Challenging” is as simple as that, I promise you. A mentor of mine once told me that sometimes you have to teach people how to teach a student like you. People honestly and genuinely think that what they’re saying is being well-received. So if it’s not being well-received on your end, you best believe that you are not the only one and it is only to everyone’s benefit that you remind them that not everyone has the exact same knowledge base or knows their cute vocab. We work and learn best when we work and learn together.
Fall 2021, the first completely virtual semester, together was only an option during Midweek Communion. I had a horrendous finals week, kinda like how this week is looking for me, because of one surprise paper. This wasn’t one of those “omg I didn’t check the syllabus” surprise papers. This was an “I just got assigned an 8-10 pager” when I already had a 10-12 pager, 5 pager, and 2 exams. I had no idea how I was going to finish it all, I was hoping I’d just combust from the onslaught of anxiety and be freed from my responsibilities instead! Because that ended up not happening, I was forced to really reckon with how I was going to get everything that needed to be done, done. So naturally, I crowdsourced ideas at Midweek Communion. Instead of hearing ways to finish the work before the end of the week, I learned different life-changing advice.
Time will continue, days will close, the week will finish, and deadlines will pass. Whatever is getting you today will be over, as determined by the constant nature of time. No matter what, you can count on the fact that time will whisk your worries away and your current task will end at some point. You don’t have to spend a bunch of time agonizing over how, as long as you trust that you will. By the due date, you will have either done the assignment, gotten an extension, or will just turn it in late. And, in case no one has told you this, all three of those options are good and acceptable. The deadline will come and you will have found a way to manage it, somehow, because there’s no other choice. Trusting in your own capability is probably one of the most helpful ways to actually finish all that you need to get done. Even when it all seems impossible, you will always pull through for yourself. To remind myself of this, during one of my most anticipated-to-be-difficult times, I changed the lock screen image on my phone. “You’re going to figure it out. Like you always have.” Just like how in your bright times things work out, in your dark times things will work out.
Leaving Pres is less than ideal. I feel like I’ve shared so much of myself and my college journey here, I’ve connected with so many people, spent an increasing amount of time in this building, and have made memories that last. The community that we create here is more than a worship group that meets up every Sunday for a few hours. It’s the way that we genuinely root for each other when we have big things going on, it’s the way we sob together when we wish big things weren’t going on. Being a part of Pres, for me, has meant being a part of a community of support. And although I’m leaving to continue my own little cyclic journey, it doesn’t feel like I’m going to be alone.
Shaniya Auxier will graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor of arts in psychology with Honors and a certificate in gender and women’s studies. She offered this reflection on Grad Sunday (May 8, 2022); you can also watch it online here.