It’s a little shocking to hear anyone at an elite university — especially someone writing for one of the nation’s best student newspapers — extol the value of sitting back and waiting for things to happen. In her column last week, Vanessa Rychlinski told freshmen to avoid student activity organizations because “you have spent four years [in high school] trying to get here…putting together the right GPA, test scores, the ideal blend of activities” and that you should “save yourself during your freshmen year” (The first year of freedom, 9/17/10). She writes that freshmen should “beware” of groups who “voraciously” subject you to “overachiever-esque bullying” in order prey upon your valuable free time “in this mythical land of college.” This all strikes me as distressing for a couple of reasons.
First, I’m bothered by Rychlinksi’s not-so-subtle implication that the only reason to join a campus organization is to pad your resume for whatever high-powered, high-end type of career or graduate school that your parents expect you to pursue. The idea that every activity in college is simply a means to obtain a job is exactly the kind of thinking that leads people to careers in which they have little genuine interest and thus into lives of quiet desperation. Meanwhile, one’s true passions are laid on the back-burner.
How about this as an alternative: You’ve worked so hard in high school studying, pursuing your passions and interests in the hope that you might continue pursuing things you’re really passionate about.
Rychlinski’s second reason, perhaps even more distressing than the first, is the suggestion that student groups are somehow scheming to exploit you and distract you from the truly important parts of your experience at the University. It’s true that campus organizations desperately need people. They want to make things happen, have budgets to spend and want new perspectives on how they can enrich our campus. But if they’re so desperate for leadership, why can’t you lead them? Why not get in on the ground floor and make something spectacular happen on campus? Why not you? Students — especially freshmen — have an incredibly valuable window of opportunity to pursue whatever you wish.
Want to be on the radio or bring concerts to campus? Promote (or fight) socialized healthcare? Dust off fossils at the Natural History Museum? Manage a small business? Hone your journalistic skills by writing for the sports page or the opinion section? Each of these things is in your reach and each can be the foundation for a fulfilling college experience and ultimately a career where you pursue your true interests and passions.
While you shouldn’t join all of these groups at once, it might lead to something really extraordinary if you pick one and devote your very best energies to it. So yes, you should beware, but not of the campus activity groups. Instead, beware of those who tell you “my advice is to do absolutely nothing.” Your experience at the University only lasts four (maybe five) years and it is, without exaggeration, a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Don’t let it slip away.
Alex Beringer is a Rackham student.