Undeclared

Undeclared

From Chicken Soup for the College Soul

Undeclared

It echoed through the hallways and out onto the quad like some ancient Gregorian chant. Everyone was asking it. It was the new catchphrase. It was the new pickup line—more popular than “What’s your sign?” But I had no answer. I dreaded the question. I was undeclared, like some contraband being smuggled across an international border. Like an astronaut floating untethered through space, I had no purpose in life. I would rather have taken the SAT again than have to face the question, “What’s your major?”

And tomorrow was the last day to declare a major. The last day! Everyone else was happily moving forward in their lives, striving toward careers in anthropology, sociology, molecular biology and the like. “Don’t worry,” my friends would say. “You can always major in business.” Business? Not me. I was an artist. I would rather have died than majored in business. In fact, I didn’t even need college. I could just go out into the world, and my great talents would be immediately recognized.

On the night before my fate was to be declared, my parents were having a dinner party for some of their friends. Sanctuary! What would my parents’ friends care about majors? I could eat dinner in peace and take a break from my inner angst for a couple of hours.

I was wrong. All they could talk about was majors. They each had to share their majors with me, and each had an opinion as to what mine should be. All their advice didn’t put me any closer to a major. It just confused me even more. None of our dinner guests seemed particularly suited for their chosen professions. Dr. Elkins, the dentist, had spinach in his teeth. Mrs. Jenkins, the industrial chemist, put ketchup on her veal. And Mr. Albertson, the hydro-engineer, kept knocking over his water glass.

Dinner was over, everyone left, the night was getting later, and yet I was still undeclared. I got out the catalog and began paging through the possibilities for the millionth time. Aeronautical engineering? I get airsickness. Chinese? I’d always wanted to go to China, but it seemed I could go there without majoring in it. Dentistry? Just then I happened to look in the mirror and notice spinach in my teeth. This was hopeless.

As college students are prone to do, I decided that if I just slept for a while and woke up really early, I would be able to manifest a major. I don’t know exactly what it is in the college student’s brain that thinks some magical process occurs between 2:00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M. that will suddenly make everything more clear.

It had worked for me in the past, but not this time. In fact, as college students are also prone to do, I overslept. I woke up at 10:00 A.M. I had missed my first class, Physics for Poets, and I had three hours to commit the rest of my life to something, anything. There was always business.

I left for campus hoping for a divine major-declaring inspiration between my house and the administration building that would point me in the right direction. Maybe a stranger would pass by on the street and say, “This is what you should do for the rest of your life: animal husbandry.” Maybe I would see someone hard at work and become inspired to pursue the same career. I did see a troupe of Hare Krishnas who didn’t seem particularly troubled about majors, but that didn’t quite seem to be a career path suited to my temperament. I passed a movie theater playing Once Is Not Enough, and was tempted to duck inside and enjoy the film based on Jacqueline Susann’s bestselling novel and starring David Janssen. I passed up the temptation. But, wait a minute! Movies. I love movies! I could major in movies. No, there is no major in movies. Film, you idiot, I thought. That’s it! I was lost but now I was found. I was declared.

Fifteen years later, I think of all my friends who so confidently began college with their majors declared. Of those who went around snottily asking, “What’s your major?” very few are working in their chosen professions. I didn’t end up a filmmaker. In fact, I’m now on my fourth career—and some days, I still feel undeclared. It really doesn’t matter what you major in, as long as you get the most out of college. Study what interests you, and enjoy learning about the world. There is plenty of time to decide what you will do with the rest of your life.

Tal Vigderson

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