More than a month ago, I was sitting in a circle on the hot grass outside Dupont Hall with the other Dupont third east girls, waiting for my turn to tell everyone my name, where I came from and what I was interested in studying here at the College of William and Mary. Three girls down, I heard someone say, “pre-med.” Next, “biology.” My roommate replied with, “international politics.” And then, it was my turn: “Zoe Speas, central Virginia, and I’m, uh … well, I’m undecided.”
It’s a miserably indeterminate way of describing yourself. And yet, that’s the label I have to live with for my first semester here at the College. Ever since I learned about the u-word, I have always felt that it inadequately represents what exactly it is that I mean to say about myself when I use it. It’s too general and could be defined any number of ways. It could be interpreted as, “I’m unable to make a decision.” It could mean, “I haven’t really put that much thought into it yet.” And for some reason, when someone asks me my major, I find myself preferring to pull something random and inaccurate off the top of my head rather than admit the truth: that I am … the u-word.
During high school, a broad spectrum of interests and abilities was not only feasible, but looked fantastic on a transcript. To take a cross-section of a normal week in my senior year, for example, my schedule looked something like this: Chemistry Club meeting Monday, two-hour AP Studio Art work sessions Wednesday and Thursday and rehearsals for whatever play I was in every evening — after swim practice, of course. Teachers encouraged me to be as well-rounded and stretched out as possible. In college, I’m discovering, well-roundedness is both a gift and a curse.
So, when I say I’m undecided, it’s not because I don’t have a strong enough passion for one particular area of study. It’s because my scatterbrained self can’t decide what it isn’t passionate about. I wake up and drag my sleepy self to chemistry at 9 a.m., and after an hour I’m marveling over intermolecular forces of attraction and 100 percent sure that this is my true calling. Eleven o’clock and I’m discussing the motif of women as peace-weavers in the epic poem “Beowulf,” and before I even pack up my things, I am fantasizing about writing my first great novel and being offered a position to teach at Oxford. My afternoon concludes with two hours sitting on the lobby floor of Andrews Hall, blissfully grappling with 25 pounds of clay that make my fingers ache, frustrate me beyond belief, and couldn’t be more rewarding.
Yesterday, I was an English-art double major. Today, I get accepted into an honors research position at the Integrated Science Center, and I’m perfectly ready to dedicate my life to chemistry.
Which leads me back to the u-word. The beautiful thing is that, like the hundreds of other freshmen who have labeled themselves similarly, I have one very crucial gift that no one can take away from me, at least not this year. While I still have it, I choose to take a step in a new direction. I’m going to embrace my frustratingly ambiguous state of being and explore any random path I feel the slightest urge to follow. And why can I do this? How am I able to accept such slipperiness?
Because I am a freshman at the College … and I am undecided.
Zoe Speas is a new Confusion Corner columnist. At press time she was deciding between an art major and a English major with a geology minor.