A Truth About College by Gabrielle Kassel
I was born in Connecticut, which led to eighteen years in two towns in Connecticut before: a year in Pennsylvania, two years in Massachusetts, and I still have a year in Massachusetts to come. I have four zip-codes of school degrees and one shrinking bank account; my generation is tired. My generation has learned to work to exhaustion three-fourths of the year in a class-room in a liberal arts classroom in the middle-of-nowhere New England.
But nobody is talking about it: about the amount eighteen to twenty year olds are drinking, about where their work-study money is being spent, about the diagnoses and pill-regime, about the sexual assault statistics or what it means to be tender, about the eye-bags and fear of failure. Nobody is talking about the business of college, the cost of ‘success’, and what my generation is becoming. My generation steps outside the library for a smoke and think it’s obvious the world is ending.
Education has become a cycle: can’t take time off unless you need to, can’t talk a gap year unless you’re enrolled in a special abroad program for Italian cooking, exploring India, or learning Arabic. From age three, students work nine months a year with vigor, the expectations consistently increasing. At age three the child must build innovative designs with wood blocks. By age sixth the child has decided whether he/she is a musician or an athlete. By age seven the child has won the state-wide violin competition. At age twelve the child applies to elite private boarding school and gets full-ride. At age fourteen the child is the MVP of his/her town soccer league. At age sixteen the child meets with an SAT tutor three times a week. At age seventeen the child knows what he/she wants to major in, and has already begun making contacts in that field. By the time the child reaches college, the child is tired: the trophy medals heavy, the acceptance letters framed in neat rows, the past four years of six hours of sleep a night are finally catching up with him/her.
I am worried about my generation. I’m worried about the students living for Summer, about the students who have never worked a paying job, about the students who choose the unpaid internship over the paid job at the convenience store because the former looks better on a resume, about the student whose passion has slowly dissolved into coffee-stained textbook pages and cans of red bull. I’m worried about the students who believe money is worth more than love, about the students whose resume is bigger than the size of their hearts, about habits that have become expected and accepted. I am worried about STD’s and vodka-consumption.
I am worried because nobody believes the statistics, nobody trusts a college kid on his/her own lived experiences. I am worried about the helplessness of it all; my generation is tired but my generation is trying. I have friends who spend the summer trying on new zip-codes, as if places were dresses or bowties you buy without much thought at Good Will. I have friends working three unpaid internships in New York, friends in Washington D.C. because of the ‘experience’, friends staying at school to help a Professor with his research. I have friends spending the Summer in bed because the mono still hasn’t gone away, friends taking next semester off because Xanax is addictive, friends trapped between the depression of Winter and the hope of Summer.
Summer has become one of two things: a time to resume-build or a time to recover before September brings another demanding academic year. This article is to say: neither of these is better than the other.
I too try on new zip code: I get on a plane to Portland, Oregon and feign originality; find an internship and part time job and call it independence. I find a room to rent from a couple looking to make some extra money, learn the bus-system of a new city, and spend too much time in hipster coffee shops. I read articles about how Portland is the next up and coming city. Here now for two weeks, the change of scenery is everything, the change in routine is refreshing, and my growing resume is expected.
I’m exploring a new city. I am looking for people to say: I like the idea of never living up to my potential. The concept of college-drop outs turns me on. I am looking for people to say: it is okay to be tired and I am taking note of your eye bags and thinning hair.
This is not old age; this is just the result of too high expectations and the potentially toxic cycle of academia. I write not with disdain for the institutions I’ve been thriving in for the past seventeen years. I write not with a lack of appreciation for the education I’ve received or the education I will return to in September. I write not with blame, but with a call, a demand that somebody listen, a request that one college kids plans not be seen as being more successful than another’s. Summer is often a time of relaxation, a much-needed break from the pressures that boil between September and May.
If a student opens up to you about their college experiences: listen. If someone from my generation needs sleep, let them sleep, and let them know you’re there to listen. If somebody had a rough of unforgettable experience, give them your attentive ears and meaningful advice and get them the help they need.
To my readers: for those of you who have read my previous articles, you know that this article doesn’t have the same tone as the others I’ve written. But I passionately think that not enough people trust or listen to the lived experiences of college students. As my mother has said, college is not what it used to be, what it was for the people my age. A combination of the college-business and medias portrayal of what college should be has led to this.
My generation is the next generation to run the country, the world. And my generation deserves to be listened to. So please, be mindful of the students of my generation as summer begins, give them space to talk and space to be listened to.