Several things changed this year about a young man named Corbin Gomez. Among the most dramatic are his email style and his hair.
I first met and interviewed Corbin when he was a high school senior. I interviewed him again after his first year at UC Davis and wrote about his freshman experience. Recently, I contacted him to ask about sophomore year.
This time, he called me by a different name.
I’ve been trying to get him to switch from “Mrs. Franck” to “Marion” since he was a high school senior, but no matter how many times I signed my email messages “Marion” he always wrote back to “Mrs. Franck.”
This time, however, he used my first name so easily that he didn’t even realize he had done it. I told him when we finally met for an interview.
The other thing that changed about his emails was timing. He responded in a reasonable time frame—but not instantaneously. At first I thought he was becoming less conscientious. But no. He is learning to distinguish between things that need his immediate attention and those that can wait.
The change in his hair also relates to time management, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
Corbin and I met when I was a judge for Poetry Out Loud, a competition in which high school students recite poems by revered poets. Corbin brought poems alive even for people who don’t read poetry. He scored tops in El Dorado County, captured the California state prize and came in 12th at nationals in Washington D.C.
Because of his success with poetry, I was surprised when he told me he planned to study computer science. When I heard he was coming to UC Davis, I asked if I could follow his story.
He began our discussion of his second year by recalling his first.
“Freshman year was a vibrant experience,” he told me. “I felt as if credits were rolling as I walked off campus in spring. I thought, ‘College, I got this. Look at me!’”
Sophomore year changed all that.
Corbin became a resident advisor, which means he remained in the residence halls while most sophomores moved to apartments. Although the work was financially rewarding, I sensed that he felt that in some ways he missed out.
When he visited the Memorial Union, for example, other sophomores suddenly seemed to belong to clubs or groups, and he saw them laughing, eating, and wearing matching T-shirts.
“Everybody is finding their community, joining this, helping with that. I see their pictures on Facebook; they’re doing all these cool events. I was pouring so much into my work, I didn’t have time to join clubs.”
The other big pressure was school.
Having chosen his major early, Corbin accelerated his computer science experience by taking upper level classes in Winter Quarter of sophomore year.
This plunged him into a level of effort he had never experienced. His free time disappeared. He worked so hard to find extra minutes that he even abandoned the cute spikey hairstyle for which he was known.
“Hair is a trivial thing,” he said, “but when I stopped doing my hair it was almost symbolic of me losing parts of myself that I created as a freshman. I gave up sports for a while, too.”
On the other hand, he learned to set priorities. “Sophomore year is a year of training, a year of tests. Not exams, but personal tests. Am I going to stop doing things that are important to me, working out, doing my hair, hanging out with friends? Am I going to sacrifice some things to do other things?”
His answer, at least temporarily, was “yes.”
I told Corbin that “sophomore” means “wise fool” and he told me that it was about computer science that he felt most foolish. During Fall Quarter, he wrote a program he called “Snake,” which he peddled as a qualification for a summer internship.
“I was going up to employers saying, ‘check out this snake program.’” He didn’t realize that older students, and maybe even some his own age, had advanced to higher levels. Corbin knows now that “juniors and seniors and some sophomores were saying, ‘Look at this well-crafted Android app I made that took more than 100 hours.’”
Many failed interviews later, he landed a summer internship — at the last minute.
All of us have thought at one time that we were competent, when in fact we still had steps to learn and mountains to climb, with school, work or relationships. At some point in our lives we are all “wise fools.”
Corbin also told me that while he was juggling classes and searching for internships, he acutely missed artistic things he likes, music, for example. He looked longingly at choral groups and wished he could join.
It’s interesting for someone my age to watch someone his age make choices about which talents or interests to pursue. Having taken up guitar in my 60s, I wanted to say to Corbin, “Don’t worry. You’ll have time someday for everything,” but I don’t know if that’s true.
For many students sophomore year is about time — you get an inkling that there won’t be enough — and about choices — you get an inkling that there are way too many.
It’s an important year.
— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org