Ask any nostalgic senior in the waning hours of his or her Princeton career what their ragiest year was at our fine university and undoubtedly 85% of them will say, “Dude. Sophomore Year. No question. You don’t even know…” and proceed to break down in tears at the mere mention of their glory days, lost youth, and impending tax returns. As a freshman, you patiently await the first day you step on campus as a big, bad sophomore – it would look something like that scene from Mean Girls where The Plastics are walking down the hall and Cady falls into a trash can, but without the falling, of course. Everything would be perfect, and why shouldn’t it be? The prolonged awkward phase known as the majority of freshman year is officially over. You know where Aaron Burr Hall is, and how to make the most out of a late meal special, and exactly how awesome Domingo is – basically, you know Princeton. That’s not to say you own the school or are taking over Shirley’s newly vacated position as HBIC, but you are comfortable in your surroundings here and have earned the right to act that way. The rite of passage that is freshman year is officially over.
So, over the summer while you are on Facebook stalking that random girl from your Moral Philosophy precept with the nose ring that you hooked up with over Reunions (huge mistake, by the way, she’s kind of a bitch) you start to get super, almost unreasonably excited to get back to campus. You text your suitemates or your best friend or the girl with the nose ring about how eager you are to return to “Old Nassau” and hey, guess what? They’re psyched too! Because the excitement and hype surrounding sophomore year is literally so palpable over the summer that you can’t help but share your enthusiasm with the world for what will absolutely be “the best year of your college career”!
And then you come back to Princeton, and you wait.
It’s not that you aren’t having fun, or that you don’t love your friends, or that you don’t like all of your classes (ok, you don’t like all of your classes, but what’s new?). But sophomore year isn’t living up to the ridiculously high expectations that you foolishly set for yourself because, in all of the hype and hoopla from the summer, you forgot one little detail – the “sophomore year” that every senior loves to wax poetic is not actually sophomore year but more accurately 86% second semester and 9% first semester and 5% Reunions. Basically, no one remembers what an incredibly awkward time sophomore fall can be and how uncomfortable it can make a sophomore feel.
When you think about it – really sit down and take a moment – what’s the difference between freshman year and sophomore fall? Do you have a major yet? Most likely not. Are you in a club yet? No. Sure, you have more responsibility in your various extracurricular activities and you’ve got a better handle on your coursework (you think), but other than that, try to name a concrete difference between freshman spring and sophomore fall. You can’t. Sophomore fall is the encore to the symphony that is freshman year. And when you are expecting an entirely new song, an encore can be pretty disappointing.
That’s not to say that every sophomore agrees with this theory, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that nothing of any major consequence really occurs until second semester. First semester is an extended period of the waiting game – a time to think and not act. And this year, there’s a lot to think about and absolutely nothing to do.
Not to beat the deadest of dead horses, but a major complaint of many a sophomore is that they know absolutely zero freshman. Whether or not this is a valid complaint, it’s hard to feel like you’ve moved on to the next step of your Princeton career without having any interaction with the people that are supposedly directly following in your footsteps. The easiest person to blame for this is She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and the Avada Kedavra she cast on fraternities and sororities, but no matter whose side you are on, There is undoubtedly a considerable portion of the class of 2015 that feels disconnected from their younger peers and find it hard to remedy the situation.
It’s true, not every sophomore plans on bickering an eating club, but for the vast majority of those who are at least considering joining an eating club sophomore fall can be an incredibly stressful time. Everyone says the same thing, “Seriously, don’t worry about it yet. It’s, like, so far away. Everything totally works out in the end, I promise” and although this may be true, it’s hard to find comfort in these trite and meaningless statements. No sophomore is sitting in their room freaking out over ups and downs and costume ideas and charter points, but any sophomore would be lying if they said they have yet to spend at least a few agonizing moments thinking about where they want to bicker and whether or not they’ll get in – and they should. It’s hard and frankly silly to not spend any time thinking about something that so profoundly shapes and affects your Princeton experience. To make matters worse, the new and extremely vague policy allowing you to bicker multiple clubs only adds to the anxiety that already plagues the sophomore class. But, yet again, there is nothing a 2015er can actually do about this anxiety until second semester other than whisper to their friends in very public places, like Frist late meal, about whether nose ring girl is going to bicker Cottage, TI, or both
Even academically you can’t escape the eternal no-man’s land that is this vacuous space we call sophomore fall. Now that Woody-Woo has opened its doors to every Tom, Dick, and Harry that thinks they can change the world, it seems like literally every sophomore is at least toying with the idea of a career in foreign policy. “Oh, I don’t know… I guess, I’m, like, deciding between Econ, Politics, and Woody-Woo,” heard every sophomore this fall from at least 4 different people at some point. Yes, the fact that prerequisites are required for most majors does help to deflate this problem considerably, but unless you are an engineer (god help you), you don’t have to declare a major till next semester, which leaves this semester perfectly free for–you guessed it–obsessing about what you want to do for the rest of your Princeton career and/or life.
So, you’re a sophomore. It’s Mid-October. All of your wildest dreams haven’t come true yet. What now? Sure, you can hole up in your bedroom and hibernate until February arrives and emerge fresh-faced and well rested for the spring. After all, sophomore encore kind of blows and there really isn’t anything we can do about it . but in the end that might sort of be the beauty of it all. Once the spring rolls around, majors will be decided, labels will be placed, clubs will be bickered, and no matter how similar your life might seem from first semester to second semester, things will have changed. Maybe the ‘Sophomore Encore’ exists so that we have the time to properly think through what we want out of the remainder of our Princeton experience. So that when we do get hit by the whirlwind that is second semester we are totally ready for it. Or, maybe not. Maybe sophomore fall is a cruel reminder that sometimes reality does not live up to expectation. But, at least for now, I’m willing to go out on a limb and trust those wistful seniors when they say that sophomore year was the time of their lives. Hey, they can’t all be wrong.