Fitzgerald Says, “Diagnose Senioritis as Illness”

Elizabeth Lenczowski

After missing two deadlines and having a week off from school, one month went by before I finally wrote this article.  Contrary to what you may expect, I am not blaming this uncommon delay on ordinary languor.  Though, as a fourth quarter senior, I have succumbed to the plague of senioritis.

Most assume that arrogance and ambivalence cause this illness amongst the 18-year-old crowd.  However, upon further reflection I have realized that there exists a less-demeaning cause to this problem.

Psychology teacher Paul Fitzgerald credits stress for senioritis, not mere apathy or disdain of authority.  Stress climaxes at ages 18, 19, and 20, coinciding appropriately with second semester of senior year.

The imminent changes in a senior’s life cause stress: leaving home, beginning college, being in a new environment, etc.

In addition to these changes, the choices a senior must make result in stress. Where should I matriculate next fall?  What college suits me best? Will this college accept me?  What do I want to study?  Will I get along with my roommate? Dozens of questions concerning the future infiltrate seniors’ minds, leaving no space for consideration of homework.  These life-changing decisions ultimately result in senioritis.

How could a senior attempt calculus homework when s/he must make a daunting decision between a career in viticulture or nuclear fusion?

When confronted with difficult choices, freezing under pressure is a common reaction.  This senior did not complete the calculus homework, and took safe haven in watching an episode of Glee instead of deciding on a college major.  Hence, senioritis is a byproduct of anxiety about the future.

Fitzgerald assigns stress tests to his seniors in Psychology class every year and finds that more than half of them are in the highest danger zone.  Students select up to 31 events that they have experienced in the past six months or are likely to experience in the next six months.  Each event has a point value, ranging from the death of a close family member at 100 points, to a minor traffic violation at 20 points.  After adding up the points from each event, Fitzgerald says his students have an average score of 400 on the stress scale, where anything over 300 is reason to worry.

The college application process and the anxious period of waiting undoubtedly contribute to the seniors’ abnormal stress levels. However, contrary to common notion, pressure does not lift after college acceptances arrive in the mail.

Alternatively, after the acceptance-celebrations end, stress levels rise again as seniors realize their impending responsibility.

So, instead of punishing seniors with more work for their inevitable condition, understand and be sympathetic to their situation.

And seniors, Fitzgerald recommends being careful and treating yourselves well.  Remember that parents and teachers were once in the high stress zone and are ready to help with advice for the future.