Excuses, Excuses: Why They’re Made and What They Mean

During college, there are certain “traditions” between students and teacher that we simply come to expect. The most infamous and well-known cliché is excuses. Specifically, a student making an excuse for themselves and seeing if a teacher will take pity upon their unavoidable calamity and not take off points for a late assignment. It’s fascinating, a student will go to such lengths to think up a believable reason to pitch the professor when that energy could have been better used with the original assignment.

“I think laziness and a lack of interest in the class makes students give excuses,” said Connor Power, a sophomore computer science major. “I’ve told a professor I didn’t go to class because it was so cold outside it hurt,” Power continued. “But I wasn’t lying for that one.”

Students often give an excuse to justify their actions, or lack thereof. Power is correct in stating that students will give more excuses to a disliked class than in one they enjoy. After all, why would a student try to sway the opinion of a professor they respect? But this begs the question of why the excuses are made at all. Whether the professor is liked or not, are excuses solely based on the student’s own interests?

“People want to pass the reason off to something that they’re not responsible for,” said Jack Demarest, a psychology professor. He claims that students have a lack of responsibility if they make continued excuses, and should just try to own up to their mistakes. His response when given an excuse? Indifference.

“Whether it’s, ‘I was sick,’ ‘My mom was sick,’ or whatever. I don’t know if they’re telling the truth or not, so there’s a crossroads,” Demarest contined.

This brings up an interesting point: what if the excuse is genuine? Professors really have no definitive proof if a student has a legitimate reason for not completing an assignment. So not only do we have to take into account the nature of excuses, but the nature of lying.

Where is the line drawn from making an excuse in order to somehow shift the blame and an outright lie in order to escape responsibility for another day?

“I never make excuses; I have such a guilty conscience,” said Liz Roderick, a freshman psychology major. “People make excuses to give themselves permission to not finish something, or give themselves a reason to make a mistake,” Roderick continued.

Roderick makes a good point in calling out the lack of integrity making excuses suggests. Whether for a good reason or not, making excuses shows a lack of responsibility. At any university a requirement is to make up your own work if it is missed. Many of us are out of our homes and living in dorms or off-campus housing, where there is no one to tell us to do our work. When a student doesn’t complete an assignment, it should be no one’s fault but their own.

The truth of the matter is that students need to own up to mistakes. Excuses are excuses, and it shows a lack of integrity when they are created. Often enough, a simple “sorry” will suffice for a professor. How many are actually going to listen, or even really care? What students really need to learn is to take blame for something they didn’t do. Its highly likely that if a student simply tells the truth and says “I didn’t do the work,” then they will be more inclined to actually do it next time.

Excuses create a self-fulfilling prophecy; a cycle of lies that will be repeated if they’re uninterrupted. But once a student puts themselves out there and admits to a mistake or ignorance, they will be assured in their choice to tell the truth and take responsibility. The truth, after all, is what sets us free.

PHOTO COURESY of Victoria Keenan