Chapel Hill, N.C.—This morning Chapel Hill turned cold. My mom is sending my winter coat; until then, I’m layering sweatshirts for the five-minute bike ride to campus from my little house. This is my first semester not in the dorms, and I’m far enough away that I can no longer let my fear of hitting pedestrians stop me from riding a bike. I haven’t run down any yet, but there have been some close calls.
Mondays are rough because the weekend is never as productive as it was supposed to be. Especially when you’re a senior writing a history thesis—in my case on the political activism of poets Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell. My only classes today are International Relations in World Politics—which is required for my other major, in political science—and then the co-requisite section with a graduate student. The lecture is in a hall with 225 of my fellow Tar Heels, making it the only class I can get away with skipping. But for the most part, I go: Professor Oatley is engaging and funny—you get the feeling that he’s telling it to you straight. Lecture courses have a bad reputation, especially among proponents of small liberal arts schools, but I’ve had some excellent lecture classes during my time at UNC. There’s something satisfying about just learning for an hour, three days a week: It’s like storytelling that makes you smarter. Even if the story is about free-trade agreements and the global economy.
Between classes, life revolves around the Pit: a large cement depression bordered by the dining hall, student union, undergraduate library, and bookstore. The moniker is apt, but it doesn’t convey the energy that’s there at midday: a capella groups beat-boxing, step shows by the black fraternities, never-ending “awareness weeks,” and a ring of tables with student groups looking for new members. When you want to find people you know, just stand in the Pit for 30 seconds. The space inspires a certain state-school pride in me: We don’t need a Yard—we’ll take our cement and two trees.
But I won’t wax nostalgic just yet, even though it becomes more tempting with every day pulling me closer to the post-college unknown. Fewer faces are familiar to me this year, as the class ahead has graduated and the class behind is mostly studying abroad. The ones I do recognize ask me questions I can’t answer, namely, “What are you doing next year?” It’s November and I’m a liberal arts student, so this question is unfair. No, I’m not going to law school. No, I’m not interviewing for jobs yet. I give vague answers about heading to either New York or South America. My acquaintances think I’m being evasive, but that’s all I’ve got at this point.
Other seniors have started figuring things out, which only increases my anxiety. A lot of my business-minded friends have gotten jobs in New York working as investment bankers. I made it my mission during my sophomore and junior years to talk friends out of being business majors, out of concern for their souls. Most of them ignored me. Three years later, their souls are intact and they have actual jobs. I still prefer my shifty schemes to the idea of working for an investment firm, but these future executives will probably make more money next year than I’ll be making when I’m 40.
I do some work in the library as the sun drops behind the brick classroom buildings, then I have a meeting with the Student Advisory Committee to the Chancellor. We meet with Chancellor Moeser once a month to bring him student concerns: frustrations about class registration, poor lighting in the far reaches of campus, and the proposed inclusion of “gender identity” in the school’s nondiscrimination policy (which would require measures such as unisex bathrooms that could be used by transsexuals and others who don’t identify as either male or female). In turn, he explains the administration’s position on tuition increases, athletics fees, and labor regulations for housekeepers—all controversial topics recently. Today’s meeting is just students, formulating stances and proposals for when we meet with the chancellor again. I promise to do some research on how the university determines the number of course sections to be offered in a given semester. Then I head back to the library to do some reading on Robert Lowell so I can show my thesis adviser that I am making some small progress. When I bike home at 1 a.m., the streets are empty and my roommate Katy has been asleep for hours.