Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Post-Modern College Kid

I was a superstar my senior year in high school. Only two things swelled my ego more than watching clueless freshmen get in trouble. One was praise from parents and teachers, and their pats on the back and sugar-sweet phrases. “You’re such a good student! And we’re going to miss you next year!” The other thing was the college admission process. By the time I took my SATs, I had a respectable collection of college brochures.

And anyone who has seen a college brochure should know how cool they are. They shine and shimmer like gold. Some even have multiple pages, depending on how much they like you. The pictures of campus look like someone put Oxford University in the fields of Elysium. The students smile like they’re living in paradise. And their testimonies burst with passion and purpose. And the list of luxuries and majors make your eyes water. How do you choose between such paradises?

I did. I’m currently a freshman at my own “Oxfelysium”, Benedictine College. I loved the brochures. And when I went to an overnight, I was completely seduced. I completed my first semester in December.

This experience gives me the right to say something authoritative about college students. I think there’s a conception people have about them, and I don’t like it.

Take a look at one of those brochures, if you have one. Or Google some college websites. I guarantee you will see a picture of a student, of a special kind. He (or she) is physically attractive, not like a movie star but never ugly. Usually the person’s wearing a comfy hoodie, or a polo and khakis at the most. Casual wear. Comfortable wear. They always smile, practically boasting of what a wonderful time they’re having. That’s the image of the conception.

And here’s the expectation. Peers and superiors tell me, as I go to school, to study hard and have fun. They want me to put in the time, and keep the grades up, and do activities and make friends. Oh, and don’t drink or get anyone pregnant. Keep that up for four years. Get the degree. And take on the world! I tell them sometime, with a playful smile, that I’m not working as hard as they think. Laughs ensue. Life goes on. It’s okay if I slack a little.

In essence, from what I gather, the college student is expected to stay out of trouble, get along with everybody, get fine grades, do a plethora of activities, have good times and good friends, and graduate in four years to the acclaim of all. I cannot accept this ideal.

That whole “don’t get in trouble” idea cannot be right. I have friends who drink. If I have a drunk friend who needs to get back home, I’d like to think I would find him and get him home. Even if it means getting caught at a party where people are breaking the law. Friendship should be more important than putting up a good show. We still have moral obligations, understand. But what if those run against what people consider “getting in trouble”?

And about that degree. What good is it? Is it truly why we go to college? Our purpose there cannot be the fun times or friendships; both are everywhere, and not just at school. The degree, then? No! The degree can help get a job. But that’s only to get a home, clothes, food and the other necessities. It gives knowledge and understanding about a subject, but it’s just one subject in the end. Something else must be involved. Something that covers all the subjects. That something is the quest for truth, or God.

This quest won’t always fall in line with what people want. What if Johnny McCharming disagrees with Brad Darling about abortion, and neither presses the issue? Neither of them will challenge each other. They will hold their opinions. They will learn nothing. They will grow no closer to the truth. Surely that is not what college students are meant to do! When you’re trying to find the answer to everything, you will step on someone’s toes. Can that image of sweet complacency hold you back?

These concerns may seem trivial. But I cannot dismiss them. In the end, everyone must understand oneself, and what is going in the world, and what the world is, and why one isthere, and why he’s there, and what he’s going to do in it. If people are caught up in that college image I described, and not those questions, then there’s a problem. Purge your mind of that smiling, hip youngster in the hoodie. He needs all the prodding and pushing he can get to confront the big questions. The ones whose answers spell his fate and that of his world.


  1. As someone who works at a college & knows why they select who they do for those ads etc, where do I begin? Without putting my job at risk for telling too much?

    The short answer is PR spin, plain & simple. & bluntly, much of it is aimed at the parents, not the students.

    As I said, that is only the short answer. But it still gives away too much.

    Now that I have given away more than I should, I'll probably have to go into witness protection.

  2. My, my, my. Are they that desperate to keep their image up?

    In all seriousness, that's an interesting point, and one I hadn't thought of before. Now I dislike the imagery even more. A security blanket for parents doesn't sit well with me, considering what's at stake.

  3. Yup, It's all about the appearances.

    I'll leave it at that.