Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Majoring in Jealousy

It is the end of September, and there is nowhere on the planet I would rather be than a college campus somewhere in the continental United States.
I have been enamored with the pomp and dignity of college since I was old enough to appreciate my father's affinity for Dartmouth green. There was an undeniable pride and a claim laid on that simple color, and I knew it carried more than aesthetic preference. Our cars, and his polo shirts, were not that noble forest green for naught: it represented frigid winter walks to class, successes, failures, and a shared experience with his father, brother, and thousands of other alumni who had ever played frisbee on the Big Green, or eaten at Thayer Hall.

I always knew I was going to go to college, someday, and wanted it to be somewhere far away where I could settle into that storybook place of stoic libraries, leafy walkways, and brick history.

I understood from an early age the magic and privilege of a college education- that it separated you from other people in a subtle way- and that the four years of a person's undergraduate study tends to be remembered with a wistful look in the eye and always the trace of a youthful smile, if not a blatant grin.

I expected a lot from college. I wanted to revel in block letter sweatshirts, in frosty air at football games, in late night study sessions with friends, in rivalries. I wanted to learn and learn and learn. I wanted to become a lady. I wanted to find a College Boyfriend, and wear his block letter sweatshirts, and walk hand in hand to the dining hall, to brilliant guest speakers in sloping lecture halls, to grow up.
I expected prestige, and the impressed look of recognition my future employers and friends would have when I humbly stated my alma mater. I expected competition, and success, and rich textbooks that would sit in my garage for decades after graduation, that I would fondly thumb through when it was time to pack up and move, which I could not bear to part with.

I will not go into my disappointments (namely that I wanted more than anything to attend a noble institute of higher learning out of this great state of Oregon) but want to express that my jealousy of students who got to attend the unversities and colleges of my dreams faded when I had four brilliant years of my own at the perfectly reputable University of Oregon, and now is churning into a new kind of envy: anyone who still gets to walk to class over the crunch of autumn leaves. Anyone who lives in a big old house with friends, and who has the absolute privilege of exploring the works and theories of the world's greatest geniuses for nothing more than the act of learning and processing it; anyone who will get to celebrate passing a test with a pint of beer at the campus bar. Anyone who gets to take advantage of the safe haven of youth, and revel in irresponsibility and privilege... may the good Lord above strike you dead if you take it for granted.

I was struck most heavily by this while studying abroad last year: that there is not a single demographic of people I know of who are more luxuriously cared for and privileged than American college students. We travel and live in relative squalor of other cultures and countries for FUN. We go into debt, or our parents do, to pay for us to live at a glorified summer camp for FOUR YEARS (though it's usually five these days). We are the lucky ones.

My younger brother is a senior in high school somehow, and is starting to look at where he will go spend these highly formative and important next four years. The best part? I can tell he's actually getting a little excited about it, a little invested in it.

So here's to you, College. Here's to being spoiled, and pompous, and self-important, and young, and full of potential, and smart. May we never, really, graduate.

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