Okay, I’m older than dirt, but I do have very vivid memories about my college daze, as I like to refer to them. My experience was in two parts. The first was the classical “go to college straight from high school” experience, which gave me a nice but unfocused year at Lycoming College, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Then my three-year “Vietnam period” delayed my final years at Penn State University, which dwelt at the other end of the intimacy spectrum from Lycoming. Both provided some remarkable memories.
I’ll talk about seven things I loved this time and will get to the things I didn’t love (“hate” is too strong a word for most) next time. Remember, even if you think I’m ancient (I’m 61 at this writing and was Class of ’72 at Penn State), my list here should be relatively timeless and universal, even if you’re still in high school. If I’m fortunate enough to have readers closer to my age, then maybe they can add some illumination and possible additions to my list. Here goes:
1. The thrill of independence. It has its pluses and minuses, but it’s a rush, nonetheless. No mother telling you to clean up your room (or to do your laundry for you). Stay up as late as you want to. Explore wherever and whenever the spirit moves. Eat generally what you want, according to your appetite, not because it’s suppertime. Find out who you are through self-sufficiency and without having Mom or Dad there to back you up.
2. Access to all kinds of resources. Perhaps my primary collegiate passion was classical music (still is). One of my happiest moments came when I discovered the music library, an entire floor of a huge building devoted to nothing but books and recordings chronicling the greatest music ever written. My big challenge was trying to limit the time I spent there. I had other demands on my time, other classes, other friends, other interests, but the sheer ocean of sensual and intellectual material inside those walls mesmerized me. I can only imagine what it’s like today.
3. Finding new passions. As a somewhat cocky freshman, I thought I knew just about all that I needed to know for my needs in life. Ha! What kind of fool was I? Then I encountered the infinitely expanding universe of knowledge. I recall Religious Studies 3. I groaned when I realized that I needed the course to satisfy my Humanities electives requirement, but I learned so much about other cultures’ approach to spirituality. I still review the notes I took in that class and they lead me to deeper research on the Web. Perhaps the most practical gem that I gleaned from RelStu3 was how to design a Zen garden. That has been quite helpful with my landscaping ventures.
4. Books. I still have my college texts and many of them reside on the bookshelves in my study. They’re not only a source of curious nostalgia (“Did I ever call ‘Carol’ at the number scribbled in the margin of page 145 in Janson’s History of Art?”) but also great information (“Louis Spohr called Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, along with the rest of Beethoven’s late works, an “indecipherable, uncorrected horror.” Great stuff!). I would never have purchased these books had I not been required to buy them. I love them all.
5. Opposing points of view. Don’t grow old without engaging others who think differently than you do. College provides a tremendous dose of varied viewpoints on just about anything, although the dominant political orientation on today’s campuses is left leaning, sometimes absurdly so. Nevertheless, the students and faculty you’ll encounter will stretch your mindsets. Although I still maintain many of the positions on issues that I had as a late teen and early twenty-something, I’ve come to see the value in trying to see things from the other person’s perspective.
6. Autumn on campus. In my opinion, few experiences in life can compare to walking across a manicured college campus (perhaps hand-in-hand with a special someone) on a crisp, sunny, fall day with brilliantly colored leaves raining down to paint the landscape. College campuses are special enclaves, set apart from the mundane streetscapes of cities and the ravages of retail shopping strips. Special things happen there and the sheer beauty of collegiate autumns adds a sensuousness to events as simple as walking from one class to another. Maybe that’s part of what we pay for.
7. All-nighters. How could I love all-nighters? Because they proved that I could do them. In the decades since my last all-nighter, I’ve had some seemingly impossibly onerous tasks put before me, some with equally oppressive deadlines. As I approached each, I always recalled my college all-nighters and how I mustered the focus and determination to see the work through. Those lessons learned back then came forward and helped me rise to the occasions at hand. To paraphrase Nietzsche, all-nighters didn’t kill me; they made me stronger.
Well, I could ramble on, but seven is the number of completion. Check it out. Anyway, these perhaps not-so-magnificent seven things I loved about college may inspire you to look forward to them or reflect upon them.