Thursday, April 6, 2017

On Advice to Ivy League Class of 2021

This is the time of year people receive their college acceptances and rejections. There's a lot of joy and heartbreak every April. I received my acceptance to Columbia University early in December 1998, two days before my eighteenth birthday, literally half a lifetime ago. I wouldn't recognize that eighteen-year-old kid today.

I have some words for the members of the Ivy League classes of 2021, at least for those who share my class background. I doubt that many of these budding geniuses would listen to me even if they came across this blog.

Most of you can't write, at least not now. You can think. You have great ideas, but you haven't developed the skills or the intelligence you think you already have. Many if not most of you have not had sex. You don't have to rush to have sex. Lose your virginity however you wish to lose your virginity, but don't do it in order to meet the expectations of society or your dormmates who know as little about life as you do. Some of the most famous names at your university are terrible teachers. Some of the most famous names at your university are great teachers. Some of the lowliest grad students have a lot to teach you. Some of the lowliest grad students have nothing to teach you. There are teachers who speak in accents that are difficult to understand. They'll be grading your writing and that will piss you off. Many of those teachers have a lot to teach you. Anyone who complains all the time about the amount of work they have to do is annoying. Don't be that person. Learn a language, preferably Finnish or Khmer. If there's only one book on the syllabus of a humanities class, drop it. Your presence at the school reflects at best the kind of student you were at ages 16 and 17. Don't brag about your university. School spirit is more nationalistic than patriotic. Take the classes you want to take. Don't listen to your parents. Anyone who tells you to avoid a major in Khmer language and literature doesn't know what they're talking about. There are people attending a community college within a couple of miles of your school. Some of those people are just as smart as you, and "smart" is much harder to define than you realize. If you're depressed, head to counselling services. Seriously, go to counselling. If you're thinking of suicide and counselling doesn't help you, you need to leave the university, at least for a little while. Don't take classes in which the professor grades you based on your willingness to accept their political agenda. Freedom of speech and academic inquiry is important. Your dorm room is the only safe space on campus. Bullying exists at the college level. Don't take anyone's bullying. Don't bully anyone else. You are around some of the most socially awkward 18-22-year-olds in America. You are probably one of the most socially awkward 18-22-year-olds in America. Encourage your friends' accomplishments. Don't smoke marijuana or take shrooms more than four times/month. Don't write your papers the night before they're due and, for god's sakes, do at least three quarters of the readings for class. If you are still proud of getting into an Ivy League school when you're 30, you are a fucking asshole. If you're still proud of getting into an Ivy League school when you're 19, you are a mere asshole. Get C's. If you graduate cum laude, good for you. If you graduate magna cum laude, great. If you graduate summa cum laude, you probably did something wrong. The kid who didn't even make cum laude may be smarter than you think. Wait, really, why the hell are you paying any attention to your friends' grades. No, that two-hour class discussion on John Locke did not make you an expert on John Locke. If you're still reading Ayn Rand, fuck you. Drop out. The world doesn't need Ivy Leaguers who still read Ayn Rand. The security guards, cafeteria workers, and janitors are people. The townies are people. No, you didn't experience trauma because the Young Republicans invited someone who doesn't believe affirmative action is smart policy to campus. The girl down the hallway, who is acting out, and screaming late at night, and whom you can't stand, probably has experienced trauma. That hilariously super-closeted gay kid down the hall who is being an asshole to you has probably suffered more in life than you have suffered. There are people on campus who come from the bottom 25 percent of the income ladder. The campus is Mars for them. And yes, there's a reason people from certain backgrounds tend to hang out with one another. Most of your ideas are not new. Some teachers are legitimately mean and disrespectful to their students. Trust your instincts and drop classes in which you feel the teachers are mean and disrespectful, but try to give them the benefit of the doubt as much as you can. Don't ever grade grub. What are you? Twelve. Trust me, there are greater injustices in the world than getting that B plus that absolutely deserved to be an A because you included a quotation from Paradise Lost, which wasn't even on the syllabus. Be patient. Your parents will eventually leave during orientation week. You have no idea what they're going through. Drinking is the least fun thing you can do on a Friday night. If, 10 years from now, your fondest memories of college involve drinking on Friday nights, sorry, but you wasted one of the greatest opportunities of your life. Oh, and if I sound like an asshole, this is exactly what an Ivy League education does. It makes you sound like an asshole sometimes.

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