I have one regret: Not befriending any of my profs

Ellen Carpenter

This Wednesday, I spent 15 minutes rating the last four years of my life. My senior survey started out easy. All I had to do was click on a bubble. No matter what the question, “very important,” “somewhat dissatisfied” or “not applicable” were always appropriate answers. But then I reached the end of the survey with the personal reflection questions and empty text boxes. What were my thoughts? What saddened me most about my time at Northwestern?

I sat and mulled over this question for a while because, basically, I’ve been happy with college. Other than not auditioning for a musical and never hosting a rock show on WNUR-FM (89.3), I don’t have too many regrets. But after a minute of staring blankly at the computer screen, I realized what saddened me: I never formed a friendship with any of my professors.

Forty teachers in four years at NU, and not one I can call a friend.

I’ve had some great teachers, that’s for certain. Often I’ve written them e-mails thanking them for sharing something wonderful with me, whether it be their knowledge, their passion or their excitement. But that’s where the sharing stopped. We may have talked about Hemingway and Goethe until kingdom come, but for some reason, anything more personal than that seemed taboo.

I know I’m not a rarity. I’ve talked to my friends, and most of them feel the same way. We simply never figured out how to cross that line. And why not? What kept us from getting to know our professors? From stopping by their office just to chat? From e-mailing them questions or asking them for advice? Maybe it was our fault. Maybe none of us had time. Maybe we were scared our teachers wouldn’t be interested.

I’ve always been jealous of my theatre friends who have had the same acting teachers since they were sophomores. Their professors know them: They’ve met their families, they’ve heard secrets about their crushes, they’ve watched them grow and mature. Five years down the line, they’ll probably still e-mail each other.

In Medill, we’re assigned advisers as freshmen. My adviser left before my sophomore year, so the school assigned me a new one. I never met with him. I’m sure he has no idea who I am. I don’t blame him for that. I could have called or e-mailed him, and I’m sure if I had, he would have been happy to meet with me. But that’s not what I wanted. I didn’t want someone to meet with; I wanted someone who knew my work and knew what I was capable of, someone who could challenge me to do more.

I wish I had realized this earlier. I know there are teachers with whom I could have formed this kind of relationship. I’m sure many of them are sad, as well, that they haven’t formed friendships with their students. No matter how old we are, we’re always scared to get to know people because we’re unsure of what we have to offer to them. We worry that they won’t find us interesting or intelligent, so we put up our guards and don’t connect. We’re silly. You know that?

So make the effort if you haven’t already. Get to know a professor or two — someone who will motivate you, inspire you, challenge you.

And hey, if you do, you’ll have one fewer regret on your senior survey.Ellen Carpenter is a Medill senior. She can be reached at [email protected]