The Last Time I’m Going to Talk About Comps

As a junior, I made the vow, you know, the ultimately pathetic vow: “I’m not going to be one of those seniors.”

One of those seniors who make a five letter word into a four letter one and then proceed to throw it around until the cover comes off and you’re left holding a wobbly ball of string (sports metaphors, I’m trying them). One of those seniors who puts everything else in their life on hold, sleeping, eating, speaking, breathing, until the year 1 A.C. You know, a senior who obsesses over… Comps.

Then the days ticked by, the weeks slipped away, months were devoured by the hungry mouth of time and I was a senior. And I was compsing. And somehow there wasn’t anything else in my life. It felt like staring into a long dark tunnel knowing that the oncoming traffic might hit at any moment. I’d wake up in the morning and, during the time I usually tried to remember my dreams or started to plan what writing I wanted to do that day, I instead found myself rehearsing the slides to my presentation, running through the papers I still had to read, ticking off the questions that I could and could not answer. It was nightmarish.

I did pass. Somehow. Don’t ask me. But now that I have more breath in my body I’m trying to figure it out. What exactly is the big deal about comps?

It wasn’t the longest or most intense project I’ve undertaken. That was sophomore year when I did research on Egon Schiele. (Still probably my proudest academic accomplishment. I will write a post about him eventually.) And there are the constant comforting notions that 1) comps is pass/fail and 2) no one wants you to stick around for later.

But the truth is some people do fail. And the truth is that I needed comps to graduate. And more importantly, comps seemed to be tied irrevocably (at least for me) with the success or failure of my entire academic college career.

Let’s stop for a moment. What? Where did that idea come from?

I’ve been working hard for the past three and a half years. I’ve learned things, written papers, engaged in conversations, read and read and read. I’ve stretched and grown my mind in ways I could not have comprehended as a freshman. And why is it that all of this learning and growth seems to pale in comparison to a single eight page paper, 30 minute presentation, and 30 minute defense? It’s ridiculous.

But perhaps because we have so few opportunities to share our academic success, perhaps because we’ve fallen into a vicious cycle of blowing the project out of proportion, perhaps because my weird little brain is hard-wired to latch onto a single pillar to represent everything, comps has become a monster.

So, I don’t know what exactly I can say about this, except to try and encourage people to look at the successes of their day to day lives. In the same way that a wedding is not indicative of an entire relationship, comps is not indicative of your entire Carleton experience. You have to pay attention to the little steps along the way: the first date (freshman A&I); the first talk you had that really challenged you (African American History II); that moment years down the road when you remember why you fell in love in the first place (Evolution). And all the other little times in between. That’s what makes up a truly wonderful relationship, a truly meaningful education. I wish I had recognized that sooner.

Happy Valentine’s Day! I somehow managed to turn weddings into a metaphor for comps? No wonder I’m really bad at romance…


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