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Curious college years

BY SAMUEL CLEARLY | SEPTEMBER 12, 2011 7:20 AM

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We’re a curious crowd — such colorful college kids. The college years are the truest times in which we catch a glimpse of our most real selves, even if only for a fleeting second.

Somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, we find ourselves at a point of perfection — no longer children but not yet poisoned by the harsh and stubborn woes of maturity — it is in this window of time that we as students and human beings can indulge in the joy of not being tied down, not being attached, not being pulled nor pushed. As a student myself, I’ve come to realize that the gift of college lies not so much in the formalism and rigor of scholarship or academia but in the freedom of a life — however brief — void of the pressures of adulthood. It’s as if somehow, by unexplainable circumstance, those laws and realities which govern the American people have not yet discovered us but are still searching, distracted, leaving us to feel our way to a thread of light in growing darkness.

In such a sense, I think of childhood as a vibrant, vicious life and adulthood as a plague. For the riper years of our life, we seem to function under the haze of an ignorance to the inevitabilities of “growing up,” of becoming our parents, of inheriting the doom and gloom and unbearable weight of maturity. There is a reluctance to grow up, but a reluctance none the less which will surely (and probably) end in acceptance. Those of us lucky enough to be granted the gift of a college education have been given the gift to fight this transition. We’ve been granted the opportunity to survive. We’ve been afforded, by chance and favor, a map to the antidote for that which ails us — the plague of mediocrity, of acceptance and integration into normalcy.

This has struck me as an intolerable itch, my own constant insistence (and that of so many others) in some truth, that we have been given the opportunity to be educated, not so that we may be employed, paid, or promoted, but that we may break free of our supposed purpose and discover our own realities. We are not here to merely take notes, to toil and trouble over numbers and books and computers. We are here to discover some escape, to find ourselves.

Our generation’s greatest shame will be our squandering of this gift, this ability to be not only educated but ignited, like a fuse in a sinkhole — to do, make, and incite change. The definition and function of the college experience has changed. We’re not here to decide how we’ll function in the real world. We’re here to find a way out of ending up exactly like everyone else.

Fifty, 20, even 10 years ago, college was a surefire way into the realm of modernity and economic success. Now, our reality as college students is a definitively different one. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of high-school graduates attending college each year has risen 38 percent in the 10-year period from 1999-2009.

So the unfortunate truth is this: If you think you’re special, you’re not. If you think you’ve made it, you haven’t. If you think you’re safe at home plate, you’re probably in a pickle between first and second. The fact of the matter is that the number of hoops we have to jump through from Point A to Point B is increasing exponentially. Today, everyone and her brother has a college degree. Thus, the threshold for distinguishing oneself grows increasingly narrow.

With this in mind, the college years are more important and valuable than ever. Admittedly, this is all starting to sound like a speech at convocation, or forced words from a motivational speaker’s lips. More hogwash. But the woes of the “real world” have presented even more dire circumstances than ever before: a crumbling economy, massive unemployment rates. We can’t simply skate by anymore.

Today, living life on your own terms means being a mover and a shaker. So move. And shake. Start a business. Join a club. Print a magazine. Blow things up. Tear things down. Build something. Because a degree doesn’t buy success. A pack of gum doesn’t cost a quarter anymore. A dollar doesn’t get you a gallon of gas. So start shouting. As poet Dylan Thomas once wrote, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Then, rage a little more.


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