From the most recent issue of the Michigan Review, a few thoughts on the end of my career at U-M:
For just under five years, I’ve used the Michigan Review as an outlet for my views on everything from campus culture to national events. As personal (and, I hope, unique) as my commentary has been, the focus has always been external. I’ve seldom talked about myself; I do not generally like to bore others by sharing my feelings. But since this is my last piece for the Review, I hope you bear with me as I indulge in a bit of introspection.
Around the time I started registering for this semester’s classes, I recalled – seemingly out of nowhere – a phrase I head when I arrived on campus: Enjoy college. It’s the best time of your life! Often said by some gung-ho freshman enjoying his first taste of freedom away from home, the sentiment behind it didn’t usually last beyond Welcome Week. Classes can be a real buzzkill.
Still, it’s a funny thing to say. Was it supposed to be a bit of friendly advice? A warning? A command? What if the past five years here at U-M really were supposed to be the best years of my life?
If so, I thought, I’m in pretty bad shape. I never fully embraced the college lifestyle; in fact, I can’t wait to graduate. I probably spent more weekends at conferences than I did out at the bars. I penned cranky opinion pieces when I could have partied. My school spirit is basically nonexistent; I groan when I hear the first notes of “Hail to the Victors,” and I’m convinced a large component of the “Michigan Difference” is unearned snobbishness.
To make it all worse, I can’t even fall back on sanctimony. I don’t really believe my choices have been inherently better or wiser than those of my peers. I could have undoubtedly balanced my academic and social obligations more skillfully. Perhaps I should have cut back on the extra-curriculars and learned how to relax. Many of my more sociable friends are walking off campus and into excellent jobs; this has only further fueled my self-doubt.
Ultimately, however, it is all a matter of perspective. If perspective could be taught in a lecture hall, I’d make it a mandatory first-semester class. Of course, perspective is something that must be attained over time. A classroom is the last place you are likely to gain it. In fact, it can be damned near impossible to find by anywhere in the suspended-reality bubble that is campus.
I only managed to gain perspective (and a tiny bit at that) very recently. As I began my last semester at U-M, it became easier and easier to look back on all the things I didn’t do – the spring break trips I didn’t take, the parties I missed, and so on. Haunted by those words from freshman year – It’s the best time of your life! – I fell briefly into the trap of regret.
My regret was completely unfounded. Every action I’ve taken to this point has added up to one incredibly rewarding college experience. Stumbling from the College of Engineering to the Economics program before finally setting on a History concentration has exposed me to a wider range of individuals and ideas than a more focused path would have. By fighting back against asinine campus rules in editorials and opinion pieces, I learned to turn outrage into insight. I have at least as many quality stories derived from political conferences as my friends do from the bars.
No matter what our high school guidance counselors told us, it is a mistake to assume that college is the best (or only) way for young people to grow and develop as individuals. Yet it is equally wrong to treat one’s time on campus as a waiting period – a sort of extended summer camp that fills the gap between adolescence and adulthood.
Whether you choose to mark it as the high point of your life or consider it one of many steps towards something greater (and I urge you to do the latter), college is an important, formative experience that must be viewed from a distance. It is only as I prepare to leave campus for good that I have begun to appreciate the value of my time here. That’s as much as this sometimes-reluctant Wolverine could hope to ask for.