Friday, December 30, 2011

The College Experience- a dream of the past?

You know how when you google something and it leads to a search on something else and before you know it, you're on a website and have no idea how you got there or what train of thought led you to this in the first place? That was me this past Tuesday night. I was bored and had my laptop open and was furiously going through old movies and songs; blurred memories I had collected in my head over the past 24 years- things that I hadn't even realized that I had put together subconsciously.

I found myself on Youtube watching old promos from the WB (before it became the travesty known as the CW today). This brought me back to my childhood- or better yet my preteen/teen years,a time when you could legitimately watch the WB every night of the week and find something on that you could relate to. Buffy, Dawson's Creek, Popular, Roswell, Angel, 7th Heaven, Felicity, Charmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Jamie Foxx Show. Remember how the WB had the best promos? They showed the casts dancing around, being young and beautiful and loving life. Made you want to be an actor on one of these shows, didn't it?

This was back when it seemed okay to wrestle with the big questions facing you: what to wear to your senior prom, what colleges to apply to, how to begin the next phase of your life. It seemed like the most important thing in the world at the time, right? On my trip down memory lane, I got stuck on one show in particular: Felicity.

This was one of those shows that was hailed as groundbreaking before it even aired. The truth was, it was a groundbreaking show. Most of the other WB shows focused on highschoolers living life and worrying about impulsive decisions made in the "here and now." This shows focused on the result of impulsive decisions made by one highschooler in particular. Keri Russell as Felicity seemed the epitome of college chic during the end of the 90s- wide eyed, natural beauty, wild curly rebellion hair, a decent vocabulary, and a bohemian wardrobe that belonged in the city where the show was set, in New York, and featured a wide array of taxi cabs and coffeehouses and random intelligent discussions about how hard life is post-grad.

Whatever happened to this? What happened to the college experiences of old? Yes, I know Felicity is a show but it was about as realistic as they come. More so even now. It didn't shy away from topics such as casual sex, sharing partners, moving away from home, becoming independent, following ones dreams, searching for love and the pitfalls of the "freedom" that comes with fledgling adulthood. I remember watching the promos for this shows at about 12 years of age and seeing the protagonist walking in slow motion to "The Power of Goodbye" by Madonna, her hair blowing in the wind behind her, a look of wonder in her eyes as she surveys this new world around her.

How come college isn't like this any more? Was it ever really like this? From my own personal experiences with obtaining my undergraduate degree (7 years in the making by the way) I remember my first foray out into the real world. I left my house at 17 and moved 1000 miles away to attend school in a part of the country I had never been in: the Dirty South. I was also on my own. I experienced first love and independence. I chased a dream (which turned into a nightmare) and I spent time in coffeehouses discussing what life would bring me. I remember all of this vividly. And yet, it seems that generations of students are now being robbed of this opportunity.

The coffeehouse today is no longer a cool hangout spot where students can discuss papers and lessons taught in seminars. It's a dumping ground for douchebags who want to act as if they are "bucking the system" (aka modern hipsters). It is no longer trendy or cool to have thoughtful and meaningful conversation. It's cool to waste time, fail classes and be a college whore/man-whore. Perhaps I'm still naive. Maybe, college was never like what I imagined it to be; like what I saw in shows like Felicity. Maybe college has always been a giant clusterfuck of money that could be better spent and people who don't actually care about what they are doing. Maybe it's not a place to find oneself. Indeed, it seems that now, it is a way to extend the foolishness that went along with high school. College students are no longer in it for the education; they certainly don't care anymore about the benefits of having a degree (there don't seem to be anymore benefits in this economy anyway). People no longer go to school because they enjoy being challenged and using their brains. It seems that the "college" of old is now dead.

I guess that's why shows like Felicity get cancelled. I guess that's why so many people stop going to school. Personally, during my 7 year odyssey, I have considered dropping out several times. I have "taken breaks" and have been content to have a "fuck it" attitude. Yet, the feeling of accomplishment, of knowing I spent hours writing papers and studying for exams that I aced, of learning to balance a personal life around a full class schedule, of having to decide what to study (which is akin to deciding how you will live the rest of your life), and that final moment when I have that piece of paper as proof of the path I chose to take- this all seems pretty worthwhile to me.

Perhaps, we as a society have changed our values. Maybe this new generation's focus on studying Sparknotes instead of actually picking up a book and doing the mental chemistry necessary to understand a text is the direction education is headed in. Perhaps, placing value on books and written notes and witty banter is now archaic. A good vocabulary is meaningless; now all you see is "net-speech." Being able to use proper grammar and perform complicated mathematical equations and understand philosophical concepts, and employing proper technique while doing a biology lab is comparable to learning another language. Maybe, I am just a fool hanging on to a dream I developed at 12 years old, when I saw a commercial about a young girl and her journey into becoming a young woman. All I know for sure is that the college dream is now dead- school is more of a curse in this country. A burden. And if that is true, if I am living through an Inception-type mind-fuck where everything I believed is really a nightmare, then I end with this: how do we turn the dream into a reality?

<3 IMP </3

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