Back in 2008, I wrote a blog post entitled Seven Things I Loved About College. I was in college across seven years, from 1965 to 1972. No, it didn’t take me that long to graduate with my B.A. (surprisingly, a seven-year B.A. is not all that uncommon today). My four years of undergraduate study were punctuated by three years of military service during the Vietnam era.
Anyway, that 2008 blog post was a reflection on my memories of college as it was half a century ago. Ancient history, I know, but there are constants that remain stable over the years and I commented upon them, from my personal perspective.
Across the past decade, I have often compared my seven warm collegiate memories with what has transpired on campuses since I wrote that post. To say that a lot has changed would be a significant understatement. Accordingly, therefore, I thought I would do an update of my “love” list -- expanding on three loves today and four loves later -- adding my comments about how I see things now relating to college.
Much to Love About College
Following are my additions to my first three loves, as posted in 2008, followed by my present-day updates. Incidentally, I followed my original seven-loved-things post with the flip-side: Seven things I didn’t like about college. I’ll do an update on those later.
But beware. Instead of a mere augmentation of those seven negatives, I may expand my list to 10, maybe even a dozen or 20 things I currently don’t like about college. Things have gone downhill swiftly, in my view, but that’s fodder for another post.
Let’s accentuate the positive today, though, with “Dave’s additional comments about what he loved about college,” starting with the first three. (My 2008 post’s comments are in italics; my updates are in non-italic bold.)
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.
The internet has changed everything, especially in the area of family communications. Email, text messages, FaceTime, Facebook, Instagram, etc., have enabled almost constant contact with family and friends. While this, in itself, has not put a big damper on independence, it has opened the door a bit to some degree of “surveillance.”
When I was in college, family contact was managed through handwritten letters and postcards. (I know that you high schoolers reading this will find that statement almost incomprehensible.) Of course, there was also the telephone, but there was no free long distance and “calling collect” was even more expensive than regular long distance because you had to get a telephone company operator involved. So, if you didn’t write or call home regularly, you were an independent agent, free to do whatever and go wherever you cared.
These days, you may get a text from your mom that says, “How did that Calc test go this afternoon? What’s up for tonight?” The tide of 1960s independence may have receded a bit (a lot, in my opinion). So, maybe the “thrill” of independence may now be accessible only through the “off” setting on your phone, something that today’s collegians are loathe to touch!
2. Access to Myriad 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, classes, friends, interests, but the sheer ocean of material inside those walls mesmerized me. I can only imagine what it’s like today.
It’s even more mind-boggling than it was just 10 years ago. I have to mention the internet once again. In the past decade, an incredible amount of new material from every nook and cranny of the world has found its digitized way to the web. Back in the fall of 1965, when I was so smitten with a library section filled with classical LPs (for you youngsters, “LPs” stands for long-playing records, made from vinyl), if I'd had today’s resources available to me, I would never have set foot inside that library because I would have had Spotify, Amazon Music, my own digital music files and more, all available to me on my phone. It all seems to come back to our phones, doesn’t it?
The level of luxury on campus today is stunning. “Gym” facilities are now “fitness centers” with every imaginable kind of machinery and coaching talent available. Dining facilities are a cross between Burger King and Tavern of The Green, offering menu selections for vegans, vegetarians and heavy-hitting red meat eaters. Many dorms look like Palm Beach condos and counseling is available to offset the stress of having to deal with the pressures of college life in the second decade of the 21st Century.
My college days offered me a smelly gym with under-inflated basketballs and a swimming pool that hit your olfactory senses like a good sniff of Clorox. Thursday lunch was hot dogs, baked beans and coleslaw, with an apple or Jell-O for dessert. My dorm room was a shoebox-sized cubicle with painted cinder-block walls that I shared with my roommate. There was a bed, a desk and a closet. Period. No cable TV or microwaves. The phone was down the hall on the wall. Our bathroom served everyone (sometimes at once) on our floor’s side of the building. It was spartan, but I loved these “resources.”
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.
The vast variety of majors and courses offered today brings to mind a comparison between Spotify’s music archive and that small music library’s record offerings I discovered my freshman year. The comparison reveals that there is no comparison. The availability of course electives is where many potential “passions” reside. Just as I discovered new avenues of spiritual pursuits in a religious studies course, today’s collegians have an infinitely greater number of inspiring opportunities before them, both on and off campus, through those electives and extracurricular clubs and service organizations.
This may be an appropriate time for me to tout once again the advantages of a liberal arts education. Today, the pendulum has swung in the direction of pre-professionalism. This is quite understandable from the practical perspectives of employment chances, money, etc. Becoming educated (even certified) in a particular occupational skill is many -- maybe most-- times preferable to graduating with “merely” a broader knowledge of the general aspects of music, art, literature, science, philosophy, etc.
My counterpoint to the pre-professional college experience is that one’s focus should be on those well-balanced, so-called “distribution requirements.” These are the courses that bump us off the predescribed path to our professional goals and can create some positive dissonance (to coin a phrase) and tickle our imaginations. I often wonder which electives that I eschewed would have birthed even more passions within me, although I am grateful for those that were kindled. Today’s college curricula are a treasure trove compared to the meager offerings I had available to me.
More to Come
Those are my current thoughts on three of the seven things I loved about college. Stay tuned for my comments about the remaining four: books, opposing points of view, autumn on campus and all-nighters.
In the meantime, for those of you who are current college students, think about what you love about college. For you college-bound high school seniors, think about what you think you will love about college. And, moms and dads, maybe some of the things you loved are the same things I loved. I hope that there were some things you loved. Remember, we’re never too old to reapply!
Be sure to check out all my college-related articles on College Confidential.