Graduation weekends and plus or minus one

I hope that the title of this post does not scare off my readers who do not have a strong math background.  Because this post is not about math!

Rather, it’s a reflection on graduation weekends.  The inspiration for this post was partially due to one of my Northwestern friends, Stephanie, who reflected on social nostalgia, as a rising senior who will miss the current seniors that graduated this weekend from Northwestern.  Let me give a little background on my thoughts.

My social circles, when I was early in high school and even before that, were not particularly close–most of the people that I called “friends” most others would call “acquaintances.”  Therefore, most of my social contacts were with people in my same grade.  I did not relate well to many students in my grade who didn’t understand some of my differences like Asperger syndrome or Judaism (even though the latter was a non-issue in Lincoln and Fort Dodge).  Though I attempted to be sociable with people in my grade during elementary and middle school (sometimes with help from teachers or my IEP staff), I tended to only keep in social contact with my peers at school; nowhere else.

Perhaps this was a good thing, even into the early high school years, because my Asperger syndrome shielded me from the drama of middle and high school while still allowing me to hover around social circles of people who understood or appreciated me.  During eighth grade, some of my elective classes (e.g. band) had ninth graders (Pound Middle School at the time was grades 7-9, since this was before Lincoln Southwest and North Star High Schools had been built), and I also engaged in jazz band and quiz bowl team, both of which included ninth graders.

In high school, elective classes always had a mix of grade levels, and of course my math classes had most students a year my senior.  Club Day also allowed me to get some cross-class communication, like Math Club, Chess Club, and Science Olympiad.  Once I started getting into going to the sporting events, that added people to my social circles, such as the cheerleaders from all the grades, the athletes, and parents of the athletes.  Though I did not hang out with these friends outside of the games or school, I still felt like there was an appreciation and some sort of a friendship.

Therefore, it was a bittersweet time when I was invited to several graduation parties at the end of my junior year of high school.  Although the invitation lists could not have been super exclusive, my inclusion tells me that I made a difference to them.  I did not have to be different from myself.

However, at UNL, I felt like a small fish in a big pond, socially.  Most of my social contacts occurred during Husker sporting events, as frankly, I was not involved in many extracurricular activities at UNL, or at least not many that still resonate with me today.  Many of the activities that happened on the weekends I was unable to attend, particularly during my first 2.5 years when I was still working at Runza.  At the time, this was important to me, but you always look back and see how you would change things.

Therefore, the plus-or-minus-one hypothesis somewhat broke down there.  Yet, despite this, I was still happy, as the friends that I did have were very nice.  In particular, I really enjoyed daily breakfasts with Phillip (my year), Michelle (my year minus one), Wesley (my year minus one), etc.

At Northwestern, I have been more involved with the undergraduate community than I was when I was an undergrad at Nebraska–go figure!  The first organization I joined was Hillel, and despite being a graduate student, I felt immediately welcomed and appreciated for who I am.  I developed friendships (or at least acquaintanceships) with many of the freshmen that year who became regulars on שבת.  Although I did not attend EVERY week, I was still excited each time that I saw the same people.

Then, in my sophomore year, KOACH Kallah and Birthright Israel solidified my position in the Hillel world, both for graduate students and undergraduate students, perhaps by expanding my plus-or-minus-one even to plus-or-minus-two.  (And in some sense, when I use that, I am referring to years of tenure at the place, since the freshmen were mostly 4 years younger than I was at the time :))  New graduate students, like Sarah and Matt, joined Hillel, and NUJOT was revived.

One thing that keeps me socially into the undergraduate world, in addition to my steadfast support for ‘Cats athletics, is the TA responsibilities.  I treat it as both a job but also as a social opportunity.  It has been nice getting to catch up with my former students as they proceed in their studies, and some of them are regulars at Hillel too!

So, this year, I was invited to the senior Shabbat dinner on June 21.  This was another bittersweet time, as I feel that these seniors have made a huge difference in my social life, and even though I did not spend time with them outside of Hillel, each שבת that I spent there forged a common bond that I was not previously able to make.  Since I have also been at Northwestern for four years, it is as if I were a senior, even though I still have more time to go.

Of course, academia is cyclical by nature.  You cannot get too attached to people, as they leave in the blink of an eye.  This may be why the plus-minus-one barrier is mostly in place.

What are your thoughts on this topic?

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