Fife Coastal Path, photo taken by Meilan Solly
When you’re a student in the William & Mary/St Andrews Joint Degree Programme, senior year can seem more like a false start (a word which here means “an unsuccessful attempt to begin something”) than a victory lap. It’s hard to feel completely at home in a place you last knew as a bright-eyed 18-year-old, especially when both you and the school have changed dramatically in your absence.
In many ways, the final JDP transition is much like the first. Both involve leaving a school you’ve grown to love for the uncertainty of a new (or old but still vaguely enigmatic) one. Both are difficult for a bevy of social, academic, and personal reasons. The difference, however, is that second year often serves as a do-over of freshman year, while fourth year is decidedly more ambiguous.
Last September, I wrote a Flat Hat editorial detailing the odd experience of coming back to William & Mary: “Instead of starting over, I was returning to an old school, or as I told a friend during more cynical moments, attempting to fit back into a life I’d created two years ago. In actuality, senior year has been eerily similar to sophomore year. I miss the friends and places I’ve left behind and feel somewhat lost in my new reality. Every day is a disconcerting mix of deja vu and the unfamiliar.”
This unease has dissipated over the year, and most of the time, senior year feels like a natural extension of freshman year. The Lodges and Millington are gone, but the bricks are just as treacherous, the TWAMPs just as caffeinated and overworked. Still, there are moments when I walk around campus disoriented by the realization that I don’t recognize a single person, days when I’m preoccupied by endless “what if” scenarios centered on what my life would’ve looked like if I’d stayed at St Andrews.
I used to tell myself not to compare William & Mary and St Andrews, as comparisons inevitably elevate one school over the other. Instead, I tried to focus on the relative strengths of both schools. This year, though, I found it impossible to avoid comparisons. I loved St Andrews, and after two years there, I wasn’t ready to uproot my life and start over again. I’d loved William & Mary my freshman year, but I knew that it wouldn’t be the same place I remembered.
As my college career draws to a close, I’ve realized that comparing the schools isn’t necessarily the heinous, self-destructive act I made it out to be. Just as it’s natural, and to some extent inevitable, to feel more attached to one school than the other, it’s natural to draw comparisons between such fundamental parts of your life. If anything, comparing the schools has made me appreciate the Programme more than I already did. Without William & Mary, I never would’ve experienced St Andrews, and without the Programme, I never would’ve experienced the alternatively exhilarating or frustrating but always challenging task of building two distinct lives on either side of the Atlantic. Here’s to four years of tripping on bricks, spending an ungodly number of hours in student newspaper offices, and adventuring with some of the best people I’ve ever known.