Very seldom, and rightfully so, are 18-year-olds asked to make decisions that could be life transforming, decisions that can have a huge impact not only today but for years to come. Each May 1st our seniors, along with seniors around the country, make decisions that can seem to have that kind of importance as they reserve their spots in the first year classes of colleges and universities across the land. Here perspective is needed, and that same sense of perspective should be an essential part of every one of their college careers.
A friend of mine who has been in the college admissions game for several decades likes to tell students that this is the day when they get to turn the tables on all the schools that had so much control of their lives throughout most of their senior years. May 1st is the day when the seniors get to tell schools “no, thank you.”
Despite the fact that so many of our young men have been admitted to a number of fine institutions of higher learning, May 1st is the day when they are forced into the realization that this is a zero sum game. Only one school can be chosen. They may be in love with the dorms at one school, the food service at another, the exercise facilities at yet another, but in the end only one can be chosen; it’s like an academic version of The Dating Game.
Once that choice has been made all the doors available at the “no, thank you” schools close, but, more importantly, they are thrust wide open at the one chosen. The hope is that no matter where our seniors will be matriculating in the fall they will take proper advantage of those doors.
Each school has a unique history, set of traditions, great clubs and activities, and inspiring professors. In addition to all of these, each school has a unique student body and the opportunity to forge life-long friendships. Those of my generation love to tell stories of those late-night “bull sessions” where friends would just hang out into the wee hours of the morning and talk about the meaning of life or possibly question whether there is such a thing. Those are cherished moments and I wish for each of my seniors to have many such conversations.
Sadly, according to some who have studied the habits of today’s students, the late-night impromptu philosophy classes have gone the way of rumble seats and zoot suits. In the fascinating book Excellent Sheep author William Deresiewicz bemoans the trend among students to eschew these relationship-building get-togethers because there is no time for them. This is not a good sign, both on a personal-relationship level as well as on a more universal human one, but it does fit in with the abundance of non-personal relating that technology has brought with it.
Excellent Sheep tells the sad story of how discussions of the great questions of life seem all too often to have been sacrificed at the expense of résumé-building extracurricular activities and triple and quadruple majors. Who has time to take a useless course on Plato, let alone chat about it until two in the morning? The striking image of a duck – calm above the water, but paddling frantically below it – is the one that Deresiewicz uses to describe these young people trying to balance the un-balanceable.
College should be a final playground for our students – a playground of the mind. When else in their lives will they be given the time to waste on things like philosophy, psychology, art and literature, and more importantly given the time to talk about it with their friends. More than in any other, it is in this way that the choices made on May 1st can be life transforming, and have a huge impact on their abilities to be good men, good husbands and fathers, good sons of the Church and brothers of Jesus.