A Jesuit buddy of mine at Fordham used to write me occasionally from his perch in the Bronx asking how things were going “down at the peacock ranch.” He meant Georgetown. He loved to make fun of our Hilltop life, suggesting that we spend much of our time preening and strutting for one another, parading our talents for all to see with a pleased “see how wonderful I am” expression on our faces and a smug, self-satisfied grin on our beaks.

I dutifully defended us, of course, and politely inquired about the challenges of working with his New York mud hens.

Still, he had a point, and his jab carried a sting because it was powered by a truth: By and large, many of us are very concerned with how we appear – and not just physically. We live in a Hilltop culture that says to us from the day we arrive, “This is a place where we all have our act together, a place where we know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there, a place where we have all been good at things for a very long time. Would you like to see my résumé or hear about my travels or my internship or my eight-year plan?” Preen, strut.

ost days, there’s a comical tinge to it all. Most of us are smart and wise enough, at least deep down, to know that such posing is just a slightly grown-up version of the pathetic bravado of high school tough guys after a couple of beers. Still, there are those days when our resistance is low, and it’s easy to choke on unfurled tail feathers and be trampled under a steady parade of scaly feet. Those days often come in the first week of November.

It’s right about this time of the semester that we come to the deadline to withdraw from a class. It’s amazing how many neuroses rise to the surface for students who are confronted with the possibility that maybe the best course of action for them to take – the wise, sane, prudent thing for them to do – is to withdraw from a course.

Somehow Hoya peacockery can be easily transformed from comical to menacing, from pitiable to credible in this time of decisions about withdrawals. We feel oddly vulnerable. We suddenly buy the pretense and find ourselves believing and saying the stupidest things. “But wouldn’t a `W’ look horrible on my transcript? What will people say? This kid on my floor told me I’ll never get into medical school if I withdraw from this course. My cousin’s best friend’s roommate withdrew from a course, and she didn’t get a job at Goldman Sachs. Everyone knows that a `W’ makes you look like a quitter; I’m not a quitter.”

I listen as patiently as I can, but I can’t help but think of those somber black-and-white History Channel clips of kamikaze pilots earnestly sipping their last saki before taking off into the rising sun.

The truth is that there can indeed be merit in sticking with a tough course, especially one in which you are actually learning something, even if you are likely to get a mediocre grade. Likewise, there are times when, in order to move toward a larger goal, you simply have to slog your way to the finish line. Those can be tough calls to make.

Other calls are not so tough (at least for the objective observer – and we all need objective observers in our lives), and other sorts of slogging are just plain dumb. If your professor tells you something like, “Well, you could pass this course if you get As on all the remaining assignments, a 99 or better on the final paper and you ace the final,” then you should step past the peacocks and reach for your parachute. If you have been battling depression, missing class and falling behind in work for six weeks and you now find yourself saying, “If I get back to 100 percent by next week and really buckle down for the final push to December, all will be well,” then you need not only a parachute, but some good solid advice from people in a position to help you figure out the next right thing for you to do, both academically and humanly. That’s what your dean’s office is for.

Withdrawing from a course is never the end of the world. It is often the beginning of growth. It can be a good strategic move that gets you unstuck from an untenable position, gives you a chance to reflect on what is going on in your life and maybe even gives you a little breathing room in which to learn that we’re all, thank God, mud hens.

Fr. Ryan Maher, S.J. is an associate dean and director of Catholic Studies in the College. He can be reached at rjm27georgetown.edu. As This Jesuit Sees It . appears every other Friday with Fr. Schall, Fr. Maher and Fr. O’Brien alternating as writers.

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