Liminality: Confessions of a Senior

By Alexander Pralea, Editor-in-chief

As a senior, I am invariably asked a whole host of questions that I’d rather not answer: where are you going to college (maybe I should have applied ED?), what are you planning on studying (I don’t think you can quadruple major), and what my summer plans are (do I really feel like planning ahead?). Still, as I embark on untested waters, I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic and optimistic at the same time, no longer, but still, in high school and almost, but not quite, in college.

Not to fear, though. During “coronacation,” I have felt particularly pensive and thus have decided to devote more time to you, my loyal fanbase, through spending more time on articles. It turns out the staff of Buzzfeed and other pinnacles of reputable journalism (I know, I’m very funny) have co-opted an anthropological term (which I will in turn co-opt) that perfectly embodies my mishmash of conflicting emotions: liminality. Liminality, first described by Arnold Van Gennep, refers to the universal human experience of “in-betweenness” during rites of passages when people are stripped of the roles of their previous status but have yet to adopt the roles of their new status. I, like millions of other high schoolers, am on the cusp of transitioning from childhood to adulthood; although I may be independent in certain aspects of life, like my ability to drive, I am very much reliant on my parents for all my basic needs. Given this confusion, it is no surprise that many anthropologists have a negative view toward liminal phases, when individuals have “no status, insignia, secular clothing, rank, kinship position, nothing to demarcate them structurally from their fellows.”

Still, liminality does not have to be disconcerting. It is hard to acknowledge the rapidly changing pace of life, but c’est la vie (I added the French because I’m sophisticated). We must admit that we can never go back to our previous selves, to the bliss and ignorance of not having to worry about a paycheck, social norms, or that next AP Physics Problem Set. Better yet though, we must march forward, appreciative of the many ways that our past identities continue to shape us both consciously and unconsciously. After all, the past lives on within us, within the memories we have and the connections we continue to make.

During this liminal phase, especially liminal given the coronavirus outbreak, we have a responsibility to look beyond our simple materialistic desires to ask ourselves those really, really, really big questions that everyone likes to skirt. Maybe avoiding thinking about death and suffering and the kind of person we want to be is psychologically reassuring, but it is no doubt intellectually dishonest. So, as we choose to snuggle by your dogs, reclining in an armchair by the fireplace, holding the most recent copy of the WSJ or The New York Times, we must take advantage of the sheer possibility of liminal phases, in which our supposedly negative lack of status or demarcations gives us the opportunity to form new identities and discard old ideas.