Senioritis? Seriously?

by M. Kent Travis

Monday I began a discussion about words and how sometimes our sayings or jargon can take on meanings quite divergent from their original intent. 

“Senioritis” is one of these words. I’m sure the word was a joke at first. I remember laughing the first time I heard it: “Yeah! That’s what you’ve ‘got’! You’re plagued!” But it was STILL just a joke, and we all knew this (I think).

But today, while talking to one of my students about how we never got around to having a conversation we needed to have (because of senioritis?!), I found myself staring at a believer. He stood there, hair dishevelled, top button undone, tie sliding down on its zipper (yeah… it was a zipper tie), shirt tail creeping up. His eyes were not quite hollow, but they were not focused. And then he made his proclamation: “I have senioritis… baaaad.” He wasn’t kidding. At all. “Not only do I not want to do this work, but I don’t care any more either,” he continued.

He really believed that he had this so-called “senioritis” thing. And I almost slipped into taking it seriously! “Maybe you can take X for it. Do Y. Try Z.” Okay. I didn’t do this. But I’ll be honest: some sort of prognosis wasn’t too far from my thinking. This young man was acting as if he had come down with something; I was tempted to go along with it.

But here’s the clean truth we all need to admit, lest we lose meaning in yet another “term” we have a tendency to use lightly: “senioritis” doesn’t exist. Oh, I’m sure some teachers or parents out there are thinking, “Oh, yes it does. I’ve seen it time after time.” This just proves my point about how words can take on strange new meanings.

I get it. “Senioritis” is a metaphoric way of describing how seniors start to act and think toward the end of their high school careers. But, despite the fact that we’ve made a (perhaps clever) diagnosis-sounding word (like bronchitis or laryngitis), we’re NOT talking about a medical condition. It’s not like seniors somehow “catch” this -itis and come down with a condition only curable by walking a stage while wearing a funny looking hat.

Yes, seniors fizzle out, get tired, want to be through, want to be finished, want to be FREE! But they don’t get this odd illness that they can’t shake.

What they get is a reality check. They get what some people call “the don’ts” or the “don’t wannas,” as in “I DON’T want to do this.” What they get is an introduction to themselves, to who they really are when that desire to check out comes upon them, that desire to coast, that desire to quit. 

The senior who feels this way–and gives into it–should just call this spade a spade. They don’t have “senioritis.” They have a struggle with laziness and his sister, apathy. They can give into this sloth (one of the seven deadly sins, right?), and call it by some euphemistic term like “senioritis,” but at the end of the day? They’re just lazy or surrendering to laziness.

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