Around this time four years ago I was hard at work, getting my college applications done. Like most East Coasters, it seemed like I was applying to every school in the country (with the obvious exception of Michigan State).
Almost without exception, every application told me a few things that I could expect from college life. Looking back four years later, they were right in nearly all of their assertions, except a particularly notable one.
The best four years of my life? Absolutely. Opportunities beyond anything I could imagine? Check. My introduction to the real world? Wait just one second.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since coming to the University, it’s that college is a fantasy world. Our actions may resemble reality, but they’re glazed with some substance (often alcoholic) that lets repercussions and judgment slide right off.
Two examples: On my first night back in town this fall, I was sitting with two friends on a porch, just chatting about typical nonsense. My friend Sam started talking and – in mid-sentence – stood up. He proceeded to step off the porch, walk about five steps away from us and take care of some business against the side of the house – all while discussing his concerns for the Washington football game. And this didn’t faze us!
No. 2: After a long Saturday night, I woke up Sunday faced with the terrifying prospect of getting out of bed. After considering my options for about 20 minutes before finally realizing that I really did have to shower and get to work, I figured that tying shoelaces was just not a possibility at the moment. So I found a pair of loafers and left the house.
If this is the real world, then sign me up.
It’s obviously not, though. In the real world, nature is not your restroom. In the real world, complexity of footwear is not directly proportional to alcohol intake.
These are just two examples from a sea of ridiculousness in my world. I’m sure that all college students, past and present, can relate similar tales. But you don’t need examples of stupidity to see my point. Many of us were devastated Saturday night, victims of a vicious beating by Iowa at Michigan Stadium. A few hours earlier, Russians were learning that due to the ineptitude of their government, over 115 hostages in Moscow had died during a failed rescue mission.
We claim that the world is against us when we do poorly on a couple of tests. Iraqi citizens claim the world is against them when the world considers dropping bombs on their houses.
See the difference?
We live in a community where activism is glorified beyond my comprehension. Which is not to say that rallying for a cause is not a good thing. Quite the opposite – there are few things more representative of freedom than gathering in a public space and voicing concern or anger over the policies of some administrative body, be it government or the University Board of Regents.
What many of the activists on this campus don’t realize, however, is that trumpeting a cause is not about personal glory. In this fantasy world, it’s relatively easy to protest the war in Iraq – at least you don’t have to deal with the bombs when they start falling. It’s not that hard to bring together several thousand students for a vigil on Sept. 11 – at least you weren’t in the World Trade Center.
Ann Arbor is to the real world like the Washington Navy Yard is to a Rifle Security Company in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As Daniel Kaffe put it, “We have softball games and marching bands. They work at a place where you have to wear camouflage or you might get shot.”
In the real world activists fight for their causes. And I will never have anything but admiration for a well-conceived protest, even when I don’t support the cause. But at this University it too often seems like these groups’ real fights are to build resumes and portfolios. Instead of going into an architecture firm with blueprints and models, these student leaders go to law schools with stories of leading 2,000 people in a rally on the Diag.
What most of these leaders fail to mention is how lucky they are. They sleep in comfortable beds every night. These people have the luxury of rallying behind a public university’s admissions standards. Not once have they worried about their government turning its weapons on them. They’ve never involuntarily gone days and weeks without legitimate sustenance. But they’re out there every day, desperately trying to make a difference.
I only wish them luck when they find their way to the real world.
Jon Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.