A hearty dose of realism

The elephant in the room

Andrew Breland

This column was written in two separate instances. No, it was not written over the course of a couple days. I am not referring to a first and second draft either. This column was written one night at 11 p.m. and finished the next morning at 4 a.m. If you are not in college, this timing probably seems foolish at best. If you are, you realize that this is normal especially given that this piece was written during the height of midterms.
Honestly, I am sure there are some students that question how I got an extra “assignment” done this week. You can find those people in Kelvin Smith Library every night at 2 a.m.

A number of weeks ago, I wrote about the distance between the amount of work assigned to students and our begrudging efforts to finish everything. In that piece I lamented the addition of seemingly meaningless work and questioned the usefulness of many of the assignments I do every day. This piece is not the same.

Earlier this week, the Undergraduate Student Government provided free snacks to those of us unfortunate enough to be spending our night in the library. The act was much appreciated; it came as an enjoyable happening on a night where I had not eaten in 12 hours. But what was more surprising, or perhaps befuddling, was the survey given out with these items. I will admit, I was bad and did not fill out their survey. In that respect, I stole their snacks and I am sorry. Allow me to catalog my answers here.

USG asked me about how many hours outside of class I study. Honestly, given the particular week chosen, they may not get the most accurate sample back, but it is reasonable to say I study two to three hours per credit hour a week. Sometimes more, sometimes less. USG inquired into what activities, choices and events I had given up on because of studying. Honestly, nothing. I make time for the five extracurriculars that I am involved in. And I find time to search for jobs, internships and career opportunities. The last question on this survey was if studying interrupted or interfered with my personal health (hygiene, sleep, eating habits, stress, etc.). I do not know a single student who would not answer yes to that question.

The reason I spend so much time on this though, is because through the questions USG asked, and the answers they receive, we can all get a better picture about what I, and other columnists in this paper, have called a “real education.”

Students (as is obvious every day of the school year) choose to get involved in classes they enjoy from professors whom they respect or enjoy. But we also get involved in extracurriculars outside our classes. We become presidents and treasurers of organizations. We plan events. And eventually, we plan for the future. Internships and practicum abound. Engineers go on co-op. Finally we graduate and, hopefully, get that job offer that we have spent four years and $200,000 training for.

Some will not do that. Many among us will keep on going to school. Some run off to medical, law or graduate school, myself included, in hopes of finding a better job. And others, though a smaller number, will continue solely in academics. These few are destined to be the next generation of academia.

In all these examples though, the same principles remain. Students who hope to move on have to get involved, or dare I say overinvolved, now. Harvard does not recruit, and Google does not hire people with only a 4.0 to their name. You need a 4.0, six activities, a world championship and a cure to cancer to get in there. Sadly, I do not think many of us qualify.

The rest of us are destined to a lifetime of mediocrity. Nay, accessibility. Because while most of us will not be the next Haruki Murakami, Paul Clement or Peter Higgs, we do not have to be. There is respectability and honor in living a life that is enjoyable, surrounded by the things you enjoy. If you only live to be the greatest, you will end up far, far short of your goal.

Then why bring this up with education? On one hand, we try to do everything so that we can become the greatest in the world. On the other, one has to come to the realization that we can’t do anything. This is the real question when it comes to education. Education is more than reading, writing and testing; it is a way of living.

If I may postulate, I think the reason we go through this is to become more educated— so that when we are older and we look back on all of this, we know how far we’ve come. Whether you wind up as a happy parent in Cleveland, Ohio, a businessman in Dallas, Texas or maybe, just maybe, a premier researcher at Harvard, you’ll see where you came from and the impact your education had on your life.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

Andrew Breland is a double major in political science and English, planning on getting a master’s degree in political science before attending law school. He is the vice president of the Phi Alpha Delta pre-law fraternity and the treasurer of CWRU’s undergraduate mock trial team.