What makes college worth while?

The meaning of Spartan life

Jacob Martin

It’s a little after 10 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 12, and the fact that I will be in class in 12 hours is a bit surreal. While this will not be published until Friday and the reality that winter break has come to an end will have set in, I am experiencing something very peculiar: I am not worried, excited, nervous, confused, happy, upset or [insert emotion here] about the spring 2014 semester. The best word to describe my mental state right now is content.

So I’ve asked myself why I am so at peace with the impending advent of 15 weeks spent traversing campus in the Cleveland elements and long hours in the library working on an unnecessarily obscene amount of homework and conclude that it’s because I am ready to return to the amorphous schedule of college life.

My schedule over breaks is always very rigid and within a few short days, the happy prospect of accomplishing a vast number of tasks becomes a bit bleak behind forty-plus hour work weeks. Nonetheless, I went to the gym, read almost ten novels, finished a paper revision and put a dent in my to-do-over-break list during this winter.

Now before I continue, I feel obliged to tell you I am not trying to advertise anything I’ve accomplished this winter break. Rather, my hope is that I ultimately highlight the beauty of using one’s time in college in such a way that elicits reflection on one’s own experience.

College is a juggling act. Some of us take 21 credits a semester, budget in a few extracurricular activities, and then choose what we are going to do in our unstructured free time, things from video games to working out, barhopping to television shows. We choose who we let into our worlds, friends and romantic partners, acquaintances and colleagues. Finally, we set some time aside for imperatives like sleep and travel.

With all of these goings-on filling our calendars it gets easier to go through our weeks with increasing unawareness to the surroundings and situations we find ourselves in. For example, if you’re reading these words we are at least one week into the spring semester already. Honestly, ask yourself, do you recall Monday? Personally, I can barely remember all that I did yesterday much less four days prior, so I try to be mindful of the myriad of things I see and do every day.

And yet, I crave the frantically chaotic schedule of college. I see it as an opportunity to push myself and function on a level I never thought possible because there is never a shortage of things to do and I am always flexible somewhere in my agenda. The adult world is typically not like this: it is mundane and tiresome and at times absurdly repetitive. This is why we must enjoy our college experiences for good or bad.

“So let’s talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about ‘teaching you how to think’. If you’re like me as a student, you’ve never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think.”

The above passage is an excerpt from the late David Foster Wallace’s commencement address to Kenyon College in 2005. In my Dec. 6, 2013, installment of this column I wrote, “I like to think of myself as a student of life where college is the catalyst to learning how to think.” After rereading Wallace’s speech for the eighth or ninth time last month, I revisited the question of why am I in college, but that question evolved into something different.

I am in college and I will continue to pursue a degree, so the “why” is superfluous. However, the question of what I do with the time I am in college is not, and that is why mastering the juggling act that is college can yield great success and contentment in all areas of life.

If we can accept and immerse ourselves in our insane schedules, perhaps we can truly use all the time we have while studying here in University Circle. Acceptance of and immersion in our everyday lives coupled with a positive disposition and a commitment to learning is one of the many recipes for success in college and beyond.

In “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” John Belushi exclaims, “Christ. Seven years of college down the drain,” upon his expulsion from Faber College. For some students graduating college today, this cry summarizes their sentiment of failure and despair toward their education. Yet, assuming I graduate from Case Western Reserve University, if I do not feel like Belushi when I do, I have succeeded. Welcome back.

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” —William Butler Yeats