Transitioning into adulthood

As we reach adulthood, everything seems to change. We may no longer feel at home in our childhood homes. More is expected of us from family, supervisors and even the federal government. For most people, college is where they will face these often-disruptive changes for the first time.

John Brown University has seen thousands of students weather these changes over the years, and students often face and cope with these struggles in different ways. A great example of the paradigm shift students face is how bathroom breaks play out. All throughout our academic existence, school hallways were always closely monitored, and explicit permission was always required from a teacher.

Then we come to college; many students have experienced the awkwardness that follows interrupting a professor to ask to use the bathroom. Either amused or irritated, these professors are quick to inform the interrupting student that they do not need permission to go to the bathroom. This information is often accompanied somewhere by the phrase “You are an adult.” But many students do not know what it means to be an adult, which is reasonable as different people often have different ideas of what constitutes “adulthood.”

For some students, the John Brown experience has been one lived within a bubble. Senior student Josh Crown stated that “We don’t experience many adult situations. Teachers say, ‘This will help you in the real world,’ but I’m not sure if that’s always true. I feel like I grew more once I had a job rather than with just school.” This response just goes to show that for some, JBU’s unique culture can feel less real to the world, but for others the protection that JBU’s culture offers is more refreshing and comforting.

Another major shift in expectations comes in the form of the syllabus. This collection of paper has a huge bearing on how a student’s semester will go, and many have passed or failed based on the amount of attention paid to this document.

Looking back at previous education, it makes sense that teachers would approach work on a day-to-day basis, but many students are disrupted when responsibility is placed in their hands for knowledge of each assignment. Senior student Kati Watkins expressed her initial confusion with the practice.

“You actually have to look ahead for assignments rather than the teacher telling you daily what is expected. You don’t realize how in the dark you were in high school.”

Responsibility is the major difference between childhood and adulthood. And this shift is so difficult due to the abrupt way it is observed. The expectation changes as soon as adulthood is reached, or even earlier, regardless of relative maturity experience. Eventually, adulthood comes for all, ready or not. And syllabi are the ever-present academic reminder of this truth.

This shift meets students in different places as well. College isn’t the only time when expectations shift. Sometimes, college is refreshing compared to alternate expectations. Senior student Nate Mace expressed his experience much along these lines.

“A lot of people feel a sense of autonomy, but for me college hasn’t affected the transition to adulthood. I didn’t live with my parents my junior and senior year of high school, so my situation is pretty unique. I had a lot of responsibilities during that time. Normally, college is the first time kids aren’t living with their parents, and for me, that wasn’t the case.”

Adulthood doesn’t meet us where we are. It’s certainly a reality, but it is often unpredictable. There are ways of delaying or denying more adult responsibilities that some students indulge.

Other students face those realities earlier. Some need jobs to pay their way through college and must sacrifice some of the relaxing social joys that college provides. Sometimes adulthood comes knocking unexpectedly. Sometimes a student has more agency in the process of growing up. Eventually, all must embrace that adult responsibility. For many, that change is happening right now.