Laziness and ‘my many selves’: senioritis reconsidered

Joe Hogan

Winter has arrived early. The evidence: the sheet of snow and ice that I discovered on my car early Wednesday morning. Pondering this sad fact as I waited for the warm air to defrost the windshield, I felt a disarmingly strong urge to return to bed. Surely, I thought, my blankets were still warm, my pillow still perfectly molded to the shape of my head. I could climb back into bed and fall back into a deep sleep, back into warm nothingness. Or I could continue to wait for the warm air to make its slow, steady, seemingly doomed advance on the thick ice that dominated the windshield—Napoleon had better chances in Russia. As it turns out, I grudgingly chose the latter.

All students (really anyone who rises early on a winter morning in West Michigan) are well acquainted with the situation I’ve described. Thus, we are all aware of this truth: in the early morning, we lack control over our rational minds and instead become slaves to our urges. I think many would wager, in addition, that we are never more susceptible to the seductions of laziness and sloth than during our final year of college. In many conversations on the topic, this debilitating susceptibility—commonly termed “senioritis”—is synonymous with laziness. In other words, senioritis is just the fourth or fifth-year’s excuse to be lazy.

I don’t know if this is necessarily true, though. To investigate the issue, I ask that you consider again the winter morning scenario and the variety of urges at play. To explain them, I’m going to adopt Wayne Booth’s strategy of dividing the self into many parts in order to shed some light on the cacophony of urges we experience. Consider the following:

Lazy Joe, extremely suspect in this case, urges me to return to bed. His will is the path of least resistance. Responsible Joe, on the other hand, encourages me to stay in the car. I made a commitment to attend class, Responsible Joe lectures, and I ought to stick to it. With less moral confidence, Ambitious Joe also offers counsel. Sure that getting to class means better grades and a better reputation, Ambitious Joe is willing to sacrifice sleep to the god of Success. Contrariwise, Intellectual Joe truly wants to get to class, but prefers to rise at 10 or 11. By the time the car has warmed up, though, Intellectual Joe has managed to open his eyes.

In the morning, all of these voices have their say. The trick is to silence some (Lazy Joe, Ambitious Joe) and listen closely to others (Responsible Joe, Intellectual Joe). However, in my last year at Grand Valley, I have heard a new voice—one that, at times, seems deceivingly similar to Lazy Joe. What is more, I suspect that this new voice has much to do with my own case of senioritis.

He is Future-Oriented Joe.

As I said, Future-Oriented Joe is easily mistaken for Lazy Joe. However, I think his motives are quite different. Whereas Lazy Joe seeks the path of least resistance, Future-Oriented Joe merely wonders how getting up and getting to class has anything to do with the life that I, in my final months of college, am staring right in the face. Future-Oriented Joe, in fact, is quite excited for this life. Channeling Billy Crystal in “When Harry Met Sally,” Future-Oriented Joe realizes the promise of his life and, thus, wants “the rest of his life to start as soon as possible.” So, though Future-Oriented Joe is ostensibly similar to Lazy Joe, he has an altogether innocent motive.

Is this particular dynamic the problem faced by many of the seniors we accuse of having senioritis? I think so. In their last year, how can college students avoid the obvious fact that, for the most part, whether they make it to every class has little bearing on their future? How can they focus on class when right in front of them is the great wide future?

Perhaps the trick is to provide Future-Oriented Self some perspective. The practical perspective is the first: going to class, especially in the bleak midwinter, is essential to developing a strong work ethic for the future. Less superficially, Future-Oriented Self should be reminded by Intellectual Self that education and learning are still worth the effort.

Finally, Future-Oriented Self should realize that, in twenty years, he might very well yearn to return to college. This realization, I think, might be the right prescription to cure senioritis.