Kelsey Rohwer: “Undergraduate” is not a dirty word

The problem with growing up is that there is always someone telling us we are not old enough. And yet, you would think that as young adults, we would finally be over it.

But even as college students, there is still one hurdle we cannot quite clear, one word that brings our youth crashing back down upon us every time – being called an undergraduate. It is the last stage of growing up that we can cling to, and the only name someone can call us to make us feel insignificant and young all over again.

As a rising senior, I have finally started to feel a little old and nostalgic while trying to figure out where exactly the last three years have gone. I suppose they are scattered about Foggy Bottom, running by the White House, stuck to the floor at The Guards, fried in the tater tots at Tonic or desperately carved into a desk at Gelman Library. But all it took was the instant feeling that I am unbearably young to make me want to rush through the next year.

The sensation hit me upon reading a post on the #whenindc Tumblr. “When I go out in Foggy Bottom and find myself surrounded by undergrads,” it read, above a photo of a man in a hospital gown saying, “I have made a huge mistake.”

Just like that, I was ready to grow up and no longer be one of those juvenile, annoying undergraduates.

Whether it be the nasty but incredibly cool eighth grader on the back of the bus, or that government official who says we cannot yet legally drink, we are always being told we’re too young.

More often than not, we find ourselves racing toward the next age deadline – until we run out of them. That Tumblr post made me realize that being an undergraduate is, in fact, the last of these deadlines. It is the last time foolishness will ever be expected of us.

The idea of taking advantage of our youth and appreciating our time in college is not a new one. But as undergraduates, we are trapped. We are not quite old enough to be taken seriously, but we are told we should still be pleased with our youth.

With another year of college coming to an end, freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors are ecstatic and distraught at the same time. Underclassmen await the day they can finally live in Ivory Tower or drink at McFadden’s, nervously realizing they will soon have to start taking college seriously. Upperclassmen are counting the days until they never have to fill out another one of GW’s bureaucratic forms, but are still in denial that graduation is quickly approaching.

When coming to college, we expect time to slow down, but instead it races by. Whether we spend four years sprinting toward the next deadline or scrapbooking every moment, our experiences as undergraduates are entirely what we make them. No one else can make our decisions – or our mistakes – for us.

We are always in a rush to grow up, but shouldn’t be. College is one of the last times we get to explore our passions and interests. It is a cluster of years during which foolishness and mistakes are actually expected, and even encouraged.

So while I expect adulthood has its perks, for now I am content with being an undergraduate. And more importantly, I suspect the person who created that Tumblr post wishes they still were one, because well, who wouldn’t?

Kelsey Rohwer, a junior majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet columnist.

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