The college experience is something to be cherished forever, or so we’re told. Our parents talk about college as the peaks of their lives, filled with opportunities they’ll never have access to again. In some ways they make it seem like life goes downhill after college, almost like adults become zombies inundated with repetitive lifestyles. With that in mind, I embarked on a four-year quest to make memories. After three years I find myself looking back on what was, admittedly, a wild ride. I made new friends, tried new things and lived what could only be described as a hectic, chaotic but ultimately fun lifestyle.
So why is it that upon reflection I have this underlying worry that I missed out, or didn’t live it to the fullest? I feel regret that I didn’t reach out to more people and completely break out of my mold, or step out of my comfort zone in the pursuit of trying new things — maybe joining clubs I normally wouldn’t have in the event I might gain a new hobby or interest. I think these types of feelings are normal, and some of their roots may lie in how our lives are constructed by the older generation and societal norms.
By graduation I will be 21 years old. According to a 2019 study, the average life expectancy for someone with a college degree is at least 79, meaning I am presumably not even halfway through my life. Yet I am being told by society, including pop culture and media, that what happens now seals my fate for the rest of my life. The cultural perception that this decade is the most important of our lives may be true, but is definitely overstated. The fear I have expressed regarding college may be framed differently than the average student. I find that I am less worried about the present as a means to properly prepare for the future and more about not enjoying it for what it is worth. If I had to guess, I would think the thoughts that mainly preoccupy the everyday student are schoolwork and advancing their academic future so as to obtain a job, enabling them to have a career to support their future lifestyle. But these two perspectives aren’t as dissimilar as they would appear and both stem from a basic mindset. Our time is short and we have to make it count. To a lot of college students, if we don’t do so our future is in jeopardy. After all, isn’t the point of college to provide a stepping stone between avenues of our lives and ensure a smooth transition?
One of my best friends came to college not knowing what he wanted for his future. He enjoyed biology — specifically anatomy and physiology — and thus assumed a pre-med track was best for him, only to find after two years of taking the prerequisites, that he was not interested in them. Now he had to battle the idea that he had wasted two years of college. After pondering for nearly a full semester about what he would do, he remembered a hidden passion for ceramics he had in high school. Channeling a love for creating and designing, he is now in the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and will spend an extra semester to graduate. His concern was one often voiced by students, the dreaded future mid-life crisis. Instead of focusing our future on what we love now, we try and guess at what we’ll still love then.
College is definitely preparatory in nature, but it isn’t so much about what you do or what you learn. Rather it is about developing an appreciation for learning and seeing new things. I realize now that the memories themselves aren’t what’s important when I look back on my college experience, but what those memories taught me about life. In my friend’s case, it doesn’t matter that the University of Michigan unveiled his love for architecture. What matters is that it showed him his interests were subject to change, and there is always an avenue to pursue them. The world is big, and there’s so much there to explore and discover. College does an excellent job of conveying this. If one can incorporate this lesson into the rest of their life, it provides far more value than a diploma, because no matter what happens one can sleep easily knowing there is more to explore and a sea of opportunity ahead.
Arjun Lama can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.