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Golden Days : Senioritis: Body on Campus but Spirit's Taken Wing

May 21, 1987|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | Times Staff Writer

Tim Hall, president of the senior class at Palos Verdes High School in Palos Verdes Estates, never thought he'd succumb to senioritis.

"I used to study so hard," he said, recalling his industrious junior year as if it had occurred in the distant past.

Like most of the 457 members of the Palos Verdes' Class of 1987--indeed, like high-school seniors everywhere--Tim keeps forgetting why he should concentrate on calculus and English composition.

Something is ending forever, something unimaginably exciting is about to begin, and that seems infinitely more important than perfect attendance or spot quizzes or even term papers, all matters that formerly loomed large.

"Everybody has it," Tim said of senioritis. "Everybody says, 'Don't study. I'm not going to study. Let's go to a movie.' " Wednesdays are the worst: admission to a nearby movie theater is only $2. And even when there is no film to tempt the eminently temptable seniors away from their studies, there are pickup games of baseball and basketball. The girls, Tim said, are lured by soap operas.

Tim draws the line there. Tim may be an example of the young and restless but he would rather do his homework than watch the soap opera of the same name.

"I refuse," he said. "A girl came to my house the other day and I told her she couldn't watch soap operas on my TV!"

While the term senioritis does not appear in textbooks, psychologists contacted by The Times described it as a normal but often anxiety-ridden stage that teen-agers pass through on their way to adult autonomy.

Senioritis is rarely fatal. But, as one Southland school official pointed out, it is highly contagious: "It's as bad as seasickness," he said. And it is an annual trial for teachers and school administrators who find that their once diligent, even driven students are suddenly as distractable as 3-year-olds.

Jim Kinney, director of student activities at Palos Verdes, said the condition is as predictable as graduation. "It starts the same time every year--the moment the colleges send their acceptances out in mid-April," he said. "You can almost set your watch by it. Then the weather gets nice. It's a deadly combination."

Asked to describe the syndrome, Kinney said: "It's like cruise control in a car. The kids put themselves on automatic pilot."

Kinney added: "It's amazing to me sometimes that they are able to get to school."

Meanwhile, Tim and his classmates count the days until their June 18th commencement and wonder whether UCLA will understand why their senior grades were so inferior to the rest of their academic records.

Liz Beckenbach, who graduated this week from Marlborough School in Hancock Park, remembers what she was like before she came down with senioritis.

Never Ditched

"I was such a geek," she said. "I turned everything in on time. I never ditched."

On Dec. 13, she found out she had been accepted at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, the college of her choice, and a new Liz emerged.

"It happened overnight. Once I found out I was accepted, I came in the next day out of uniform!"

The old Liz would no more have come to school out of uniform than with a frog in her pocket. But that was before senioritis struck.

"Let's face it," said Lu B. Wenneker, college counselor at the private girls school. "Once they've got their college applications out of the way, it's treading water. Most schools spend a great deal of time finding things to keep seniors interested and in school."

Early Graduation

Senioritis was so widespread at Marlborough this year that the administration decided to hold graduation early, on May 20, instead of in June, as in the past.

The school's 70 seniors reported varied symptoms. Dena Crowder of Ladera Heights found herself going home at 10 in the morning more and more often (permitted by the school, if the senior's classes are over and her parents approve).

Many seniors said they cut class only to reconvene at Gelati Per Tutti, a popular ice cream parlor on Melrose Avenue.

Apathy was endemic among second-semester seniors. As Kathy Durousseau succinctly put it: "It just doesn't matter."

Sara Golding, who lives in Los Feliz, was more specific. "Colleges will never see our second-semester grades," said Sara, who has been accepted at Yale.

(That's not strictly true, according to Wenneker. Colleges occasionally rescind their acceptances of students who perform abominably during the second semester of their senior year, but not often.)

What did suddenly matter to the Marlborough seniors was their friends and even those other students they did not really get to know and will probably never see again after graduation.

"There is nothing left but friendship," Kathy said.

"I hate the school more than I ever did, but I love the people," another senior observed.

Surprising Sisterhood

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