Patrick C. Keaveny

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The 9 Things College Has Taught Me:

Life | Musings

I don’t feel I’ve really lived the “College Experience”

That is, I haven’t had a College experience so much as I have… experienced College vicariously, from afar.

I think I was misled about what College had in store for me, and even though I learned this very early on in my College career, I feel as though I have somehow been cheated out of the College experience. Over the course of my time at College, I found that there are many flaws in the College system, most that seem to only impede the growth one is supposed to find during these growing years. I think the message of going through the Undergraduate system has become extremely diluted over the years, and there are many things about the whole College process that I wish I had known before beginning.

And so, I have compiled a list of 9 things I learned at College. These things are — unfortunately — very cynical, yet they are also very telling of what I believe is wrong with the College experience in general:

1. Everyone fits in at College, as long as you are a certain type of person. 

I never had much of a niche in high school, and yet I held out hope that College would be different. In high school, whenever I felt like a social outcast, I was told that College allows everyone to find their niche. This is true obviously, as long as you are a certain type of person that fits into the relative niches of your community. This means that each College has its own niches, and I never quite found mine at Creighton. I spent my formative years in Switzerland, Canada, India, and Saudi Arabia, and the only times I ever feel like I “fit in” is with those who have had a similar upbringing. This was, unfortunately, extremely few and far between in my mostly white, middle-to-upper-middle-class College. Not to say that Creighton isn’t diverse, but it’s only diverse as much as it needs to be, not as much as it probably should be.

2. College is rife with unique experiences, as long as you’re qualified to have these experiences.

During my first year of College, I was excited to have the “Freshman Experience,” an experience characterized by meeting a multitude of different types of people, forming long-lasting friendships, and feeling a part of a community. Well, I definitely got these experiences… vicariously. I had met people who had spent their Friday nights meeting a wealth of new people, learning a lot about themselves, and feeling a sense of camaraderie. I spent my Friday nights playing videogames, since no one had asked me what I was up to.

At some point, I felt something was wrong with me, and that if I wanted to have College experiences I needed to be much more outgoing, I needed to be qualified to have these kinds of experiences. I spent the majority of my freshman year just trying to meet people, without a lot of success. I had joined clubs, spent time in the “neutral zones,” gone to social events and struck up conversations with people wherever I could, in order to be as outgoing as possible. I had eventually succeeded in finding friends that I would end up spending the next few years becoming close with, yet in my Junior year I was shocked to learn that no one (except for a few of my close friends) had it as rough as I did. Evidently a fair amount of people didn’t even have to be outgoing in order to meet people.

3. I have a long list of acquaintances.

My life has changed drastically around 8 or 9 times in my short 22 years. Each time I move to a new place, I manage to make a group of friends and find out after I leave which ones end up becoming lifelong. With Creighton however, I feel as though the list of lifelong friends is very small. I will probably keep in contact with my close friends, and we will spend the next 50 years of our lives getting sick of each other. Further to that though, I don’t think I’ll know many of my classmates past College. Which isn’t exactly what I was expecting. When my parents’ generation went to College, they came out with a large list of friends that they still keep in touch with to this day. Whenever I met my Dad’s College buddies, I was excited to make a lot of close friendships that I would still maintain in the future. Leaving Creighton however, I’ll be lucky if I know more than a few people past graduation. Which isn’t exactly what I was hoping for, and I’m not entirely sure what I should have done differently to ensure something that I thought would be pretty typical of a College experience.

4. College does not prepare you for the real world, it only gives you the credentials to be considered in the real world.

When I was a freshman in high school, I was told that, “if you want a good job, you have to go to College.” When I got to College however, I was told that, “if you want to get a good job, you have to stand out from your peers.” Then in my senior year after I felt I had established myself among my peers I was told that, “if you want to get a good job, you’ll have to create one, cause there aren’t any jobs out there.”

I don’t feel that I’ve spent the last four years getting prepared to find a good job so much as I’ve been learning that the meaning of a “good job” is pretty fluid.  The idea of a “good job” used to mean a steady paycheck, yet now it also factors in work environment, benefits, competitive salaries, and a number of other factors. All that College ensures in the process of getting a good job is less about the skills you learn, and more about having a credential that will get you an interview. Most employers are less concerned about your skills, and more concerned about what minimum qualifications you have, since it appears to give at least a modicum of standardization to one’s abilities to perform a certain task.

This means that unless you have several internships, are active in clubs, have served on committees, have a 3.5+ GPA and have a substantial amount of volunteering hours, your Résumé won’t even be considered in a job application. Never mind the fact that most College kids use Rate My Professor to select the easiest teachers that will ensure a good grade, the fact that students often cheat, take illegal substances, or fudge the numbers to get a good grade in a class where they learned nothing, or the fact that most students perform volunteer activities, leadership positions, or certification tests only to ensure that an employer will consider them, and not for the reasons the employer would consider them in the first place (e.g. leadership ability, problem-solving, working in a group etc.).

5. You can get whatever job you want, as long as it pays well.

I think the biggest problem here is that my generation suffers from what I’ve come to know as an “arrested idealism.”

When I grew up, the world economy was booming. Jobs were everywhere, arts and entertainment thrived. Many kids of my generation were told to follow their dreams and damn the consequences. Yet once I got to College, the nation (and the world, for that matter) was slammed with one of the worst economic recessions in history, and soon that idealism was swiftly repressed.

Motivations of, “do what you love to do,” became “do what pays well, because you can’t afford to do what you want to do.” I think that this formed a kind of stunted idealism in those who grew up believing they could do whatever they wished to do, and were all of a sudden halted from doing so due to factors completely outside of their control. I can’t say how many people I’ve met in College who wanted to be singers, artists, soccer players, lawyers, and writers who said they decided to change in order to find a more “useful” profession. It’s gotten to the point where students choose the professions that will pay the best, and not the ones where they’d be the best.

6. Unless you’re the best, you don’t matter.

Michael Arndt, a Hollywood screenwriter famous for writing the screenplay for Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3, said that Little Miss Sunshine is mainly about challenging the “winner takes all” environment we live in. We live in a society where simply having good grades or passion for a subject is not enough. You can’t just be good at what you do, you have to be the best. A lot of jobs don’t want a good candidate, they want the perfect candidate. Graduate schools don’t want people with passion, they want people with excellence. Unless you are the absolute top 2% of your class, you should settle for something less than your dream. This becomes a Catch-22 because students chase down the “useful” professions that they don’t have passion for because the professions they do have passion for requires them to be nothing less than the absolute best. It’s strange that so much of our worth comes from how much of a winner we are, and that the only way to be happy and successful is to be the absolute top contender in everything, whether it’s school, a job, or a skill set. If you’re anything but the best, you just don’t matter.

7. Unless you’re the best, opportunities are closed to you.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated with my registration time for classes every semester. In general, the students with more incoming credits and student-athletes have higher priority in selecting classes. As such, all other students were given lower priority. In almost every semester, I was given the last available option for classes, and almost always got stuck with taking the classes that no one wanted to take. Even if I had achieved higher grades or better academic standing than my peers who came in with extra credits, I was still given the lowest priority in selecting classes.

It became so increasingly difficult that the only way I was able to complete my course requirements on time was by taking summer classes (an expensive endeavor) and “overriding” into classes (a method of registering for a class that is full, with the permission of the teacher). Yet each semester, I was not permitted to take the classes I wanted to take due to my registration time. I had a friend who told me he took a dual-credit College class in high school where he spent the majority of the class playing videogames on his computer, and yet I was given less opportunity than he was in College. There’s something about that that’s almost laughable.

8. Every one is supposed to be average.

Einstein once said that everyone is smart, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will surely fail. The problem with the standardization of skills in general is that it does not take into account how each person has had different advantages in life.

The way College seems to work is that each person must be tested on their abilities to perform tasks that are not advantageous to them in order to place everyone on the same playing field. Some students are naturally “gifted,” some have had the advantages of learning the right study techniques, some are better at test-taking, some are better at assignments, and some simply had better options available than others (e.g. said friend who had the dual-credit option mentioned above).

I myself have always been gifted at writing essays, yet those who do have trouble writing essays are not given a very good modicum for learning how to. Creighton’s curriculum ensures that each student takes a minimum of four certified writing courses and an introductory writing course, but this hardly compensates when each course’s level of writing varies widely from the rigorously difficult to the banally easy. What ends up happening is that those who are “gifted” writers breeze through the class while everyone else is forced to struggle to meet a minimum qualification that may only be impeding their other goals and minimizing their strengths.

The problem with this is that it creates an environment where everyone is forced to be average. Instead of putting everyone on the same playing field, it impedes the goals and minimizes the strengths of each individual, forcing fish to climb trees and monkeys to learn to fly.

9. When you succeed, it’s because of everyone else. When you fail, it’s because of you.

One thing I’ve noticed over the last few years is how much personal responsibility seems to be fluid. When someone succeeds, gains recognition, or some other fulfilling factor, he or she is generally expected to give credit to those who helped along the way. A business doesn’t succeed without the people who gave that business a chance, the award-winning scholar doesn’t succeed without the support of his or her teachers and peers. Yet when one fails, all of a sudden the onus is on the individual. Every time I ran into some kind of failure, the vast majority of people I met had a similar reaction, which was, “well, it was probably because of something you did.” It’s so strange to me that every one wants to jump on a success, but no one wants to take responsibility for a failure. Especially at College, it seems that when one falls short of his or her goals, it’s typically because of that person, yet when someone accomplishes his or her goals, it’s because of everyone surrounding that person.

 There You Have It!

And there you have it. The nine things I’ve learned during my time in College. I wish it wasn’t so cynical, but I unfortunately feel that the meaning of College is becoming more and more diluted as time goes on. Although College was supposed to be “the best time of my life,” I found the majority of my time was spent battling depression, ruminating over why I didn’t fit in the way others did, why I wasn’t as skilled or as gifted as my peers, and why by the end of my College career I felt more ashamed of my failures than I believe I should be. I end up leaving College feeling incredibly unfulfilled, like the kid at Christmas who doesn’t just find out that he didn’t get any presents that year, but that all he gets is a lump of coal and Santa isn’t even real.

I had some great experiences at College, some that I feel (to use a somewhat overused word) blessed to have had. Unfortunately, there is just too much wrong with the “College Experience” and the system in general that I look back on the experience with quite a bit of cynicism.