My college roommate and I spent some time recently reflecting on our education and what we learned in college.
While he studied Computer Engineering and has gone on to be successful in his field, my education in English, American Studies, and Film was a little less clear cut. As someone once told me, “You’re going to college to learn how to live a life.”
I think one of the most profound lessons of my college experience was living an existence of dissent. The school I attended was a small Catholic institution, known for its programs in business, engineering, and education. Liberal Arts took a backseat almost everything else, including and especially, maintaining the school’s “party culture.”
At my Commencement Ceremony, the President of the university stood on stage in front of my entire incoming class and our parents and said, “Welcome to college. We hope you find your newfound freedom intoxicating.”
My parents were appalled, but not for the same reason I was.
The culture of the school emphasized excessive drinking, casual sex, and lighting couch fires in the student neighborhood. As a wide-eyed eighteen-year-old, none of this was what I’d signed up for. I made it two-thirds of the way through my freshmen year before taking a drink of anything, for no other reason that I simply didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing.
But what I found more disturbing than anything was the way people mindlessly went along, both by majoring in things they didn’t care about and diving face-first into the party scene without coming up for air.
Both socially and academically, college became a time I learned to stand my ground in a culture and social structure with drastically different priorities than my own. While I eventually did find like-minded people and acquire a taste for the same antics I’d once derided, my day-to-day schedule emphasized my passions, interests, and creative expression. I was committed to learning to live.
More than anything, this time felt like practice for existing in a world out of sync with my beliefs. It proved to be an immense preparation for living in a world where success is measured in dollars earned and materials hoarded instead of the kind of intangibles that make life worth living–compassion, curiosity, empathy, kindness.
Given recent developments in the news, standing against systems out of sync with who we are proves to be a more and more useful skill, one we should all develop. If we are to change the culture, we must first find footing to live authentically as ourselves.
As Albert Camus says, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”