Walking around campus the first few weeks of classes after winter break brings out the sight of oversized fraternity letters in front of hot chocolate stands and droves of young women with bright, eager faces lost in a sea of overcoats and frilly dress bottoms dancing in the wind: Greek rush is a sign that the spring semester is underway at Case Western Reserve University. When the reality that a new semester has finally begun set in, I couldn’t help but ask myself, why do we do what we do in college?
Soon, each of us will be enraptured in a countless number of activities and prior engagements like a new Greek organization, for example. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these pursuits, but shortly, we will start to think our individual worlds are the only ones that exist and others will take a backseat to ourselves—life becomes a solipsistic mess of ordered chaos.
Perhaps I am being a bit harsh classifying us as solipsists, but ideals like collegiality, camaraderie and solidarity seem to be abandoned by students at CWRU a few weeks into a given semester. Each of us doesn’t have time for anyone else and we hide behind our books and lab reports and computer screens, claiming our degree program is harder than any other and a whole battery of ludicrous claims. We begin to only do things that are convenient for us and will look good on a resume.
We prepare for and take the MCAT, GRE, LSAT and DAT, complete internships and head student organizations. But the ability to sit around and think, study and learn without interruption is a luxury of the highest order which too many of us take for granted.
Despite what it may seem, college affords us an abundance of free time. Think about it: all of the activities, social events and jobs we work are done in time spent away from the classroom. Even the time we spend studying is time we could be doing something else, returning to homework later. But the ability to study is what we’re paying for, and we must remind ourselves from time to time why we do it all.
Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, such a time for this reminder. Dr. King was the embodiment of solidarity. He exchanged selfishness with selflessness, personal advancement with the advancement of all.
Few people like Dr. King come along and grace the earth with their presence, but when they do, he or she inspires others to be better and overcome their flawed nature. People like Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela have shown us how to step outside of the personal realm and enter into the global realm. If we follow the example of these individuals, we can learn to be better citizens of this planet and we learn respect for all.
These lessons must be learned now while we are young and fertile for new ideas. I’m not suggesting everyone to apply for the Peace Corps or Amnesty International, but I am suggesting everyone makes themselves open to the idea that there is something bigger out there.
We are the “me” generation. Technology makes everything instantaneous and social media has made vanity the staple of life. Too many of us have terrible social skills and our emotional intelligence is almost nonexistent. All we know is me; how I look, what I want, how I can benefit from something.
In “Notes from Underground,” Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “But what can a decent man speak of with most pleasure? Answer: Of himself. Well, so I will talk about myself.”
Dostoevsky is right. This is us. We seem to have forgotten why we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We seem to have forgotten what that great man died fighting for—humanity and equality and love.
Whatever happened to the unbridled passion of college students? I think of what I’ve read about students protesting the Vietnam War and becoming involved in the antiwar movement. I think of the Kent State shootings of 1970 and how outraged students across the nation were.
College is the time and place for us to grow as human beings. Obviously, we have to be selfish to some extent while pursuing an undergraduate degree. Yet, regardless of this reality, we must remain mindful of the even greater reality that there is life outside our campus, and even outside the bubble of University Circle.
This past Tuesday, Jan. 22, there was a shooting at Purdue University, already not the first of 2014. The details as I write this are reported to be one dead. Given the sad regularity of school shootings and our generation’s disregard for Dr. King’s legacy, I wonder, are we just that desensitized to violence, or are we merely apathetic to anything other than ourselves and our own absurd worlds?
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.