Open Letter to Seniors

Let’s talk about the next nine months

Alexa Bussmann

To my fellow seniors, 

First, let’s take a moment. How are we seniors already?! Three years at Vanderbilt have flown by, and all of a sudden we only have nine months left at Vanderbilt.

Let’s talk about those nine months. They will inevitably go by faster than we think, or want them to. And while there are a lot of things to do in those nine months, one of the most important things that we can do is to invest in underclassmen. 

It’s a common practice within various student organizations and groups to excuse seniors from full participation and engagement, whether formally or informally. Informal forms of senior disengagement are more common, and more harmful. Numerous times over the past three years, I’ve experienced seniors in my organizations who are not only not fully engaged in the group, but actively take from the success and community of the organization by not contributing and therefore dragging the organization down.

Some disengagement is good, and ultimately necessary. It’s important to transition out of roles of leadership and to pass on those roles and responsibilities to future classes and next year’s leaders. But to shirk general responsibilities and take on an air of superiority the moment you enter your second-to-last semester at Vanderbilt is irresponsible.

As a senior, I understand the desire to coast to the end. There are a lot of reasons for seniors to put in little to no effort into their student organizations: we’re burned out, we’ve outgrown these organizations, our interests have changed since we joined our organizations, we’ve learned not to over-commit themselves, we’re already employed or admitted to graduate school and therefore don’t see a need to add more to our resumes, or we simply don’t care about the organization anymore.

While most of these reasons are legitimate, none of them justify an apathetic attitude that weighs down younger students.

As seniors, we have more institutional knowledge of the student organizations that we’ve been involved in than any other people on campus. After spending up to three years in any given campus organization, we know what works and what doesn’t. Passing on that knowledge is critical. In the “real” world, turning over an entire leadership team each year would never happen, because it is inefficient and unnecessary. But in student orgs that turn over executive boards each year, this is exactly what happens. This inefficiency requires older students to step up and bridge the gap in institutional knowledge between classes and executive boards. 

It goes both ways – seniors choose to be less involved, and underclassmen allow seniors to be less involved. By saying things like “Oh, they’re a senior” to explain a senior’s less-than-helpful behavior or disengagement, other students permit seniors to be less engaged and normalize the often apathetic attitude of the senior class.

Instead of half-heartedly showing up to meetings and merely taking up space, we as seniors should intentionally mentor and encourage the underclassmen in our student organizations. This can be as simple as offering to table on Rand Wall or picking up donuts for the next general body meeting.  

While seniors should be recognized for their achievements and prior commitments, that shouldn’t excuse them from current commitments. While “seniority” is legitimate in some instances, it shouldn’t be the overarching attitude of the senior class. By choosing to contribute to the student organizations that they are involved in, seniors can use their platform to show younger students what it looks like to be an active member of the organization. 

Personally, I hold fewer formal leadership roles this year than I did last year. I’m excited to have more free time, and I’m looking forward to using some of that time to give back to the student organizations that have been a formative part of my time at Vanderbilt. Even though I don’t hold a formal role on the Hustler anymore, I still have a responsibility to the Hustler as an organization and as a community. I have a responsibility to support and encourage younger writers, just as I was supported and encouraged as an underclassman writer myself. 

Vanderbilt is a great but imperfect institution, made up of a lot of great but imperfect people. By passing on what we’ve learned and encouraging those that come after us, we as seniors can improve Vanderbilt in small but real ways.

 

Alexa Bussmann is a senior in the College of Arts and Science. She can be reached at alexa.bussmann@vanderbilt.edu.

 

 

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