There’s nothing in the world riper for fictional portrayal, for fictional adulation, than the American college experience. Whether it’s the classic National Lampoon comedy Animal House, a more serious portrayal like The Social Network or one of the countless modern day “reality” shows professing to accurately portray a quasi-college lifestyle, it seems there’s nothing that holds our wistful attention quite like this relatively small slice of life enjoyed by a relatively small section of the American population.
I’m a freshman here at BU, and I remember back in September piling out of my family’s car on Bay State Road, along with my parents and older brother. I remember the excited force-feeding of change into the parking meter (not unlike my own force-feeding of a way-oversized breakfast that morning); I remember looking breathlessly for my correct number Brownstone, urged to go faster by my nervous family; I remember lugging big plastic containers up too narrow staircases, the banging of shins and kneecaps, as we hurried to get it me moved in as fast as possible. It was as though they were afraid my acceptance would be revoked at the doorway or something, the dream dashed, and me destined to join the common crowd back home. College isn’t a fantasy for my family — they’ve all done it — yet somehow it holds on to its magic element, especially when my father looks at me glassy eyed and a little jealous and tells me to have fun.
I matriculated to BU as an English major. It’s at first worrying and then quite gratifying to know that I will most likely be unemployed when my four years here are up. The worthwhile tradeoff is that, at least for now, I’m free to pursue what interests me, to enroll in classes purely because they tickle my fancy. I’m free to think, read and feel abstract ideas, and not worry about those ideas’ marketability in a post-collegiate world. My little bohemian artsy lifestyle here is mirrored nicely by the two guys I share a floor of a brownstone with, and who live across the hall from me. Pre-med majors both, they came here to be doctors, with a set plan in mind and almost daily goals they need to check off, not to mention obscene amounts of homework. I’ll often find myself passing by their room, a literary classic under my arm and a disgustingly high calorie snack in my hand, and see them clacking away at florescent screens in the darkness, intent on and content with the idea of the lives they’ll be saving eight years from now.
I was as goal-oriented when I first got here too, though in a different way. I was determined to find a party that weekend, and not just any party, a real and legitimate “college” party, one complete with togas and trouble and sexual shenanigans and any other college cliché I could wrap my head around. I was not alone in my pursuit; columns upon columns of unsure-footed freshman girls in slinky short dresses marched up and down those Allston streets with me, looking nervously left and right for cops and fun, while less organized groups of guys followed behind, some with their hands on one or two water bottles full of vodka if they were lucky.
I don’t remember if I found a party that night to tell the truth. Some nights I’ve searched for them high and low to no avail while other nights they’ve come right to me. I’ve made mistakes in my time here, I’ve had adventures, I’ve even made a good decision or two.
What I’m mostly doing, I’d say, is surviving, and the question that really interests me about my time here, because it’s probably the one I’ll be asked by my friends back home this summer, and by my kids one day, is: Have I had “the college experience”?
They won’t ever ask this question directly, in flat out simple English, but it’s what they’ll mean, more or less. And when I think about the answer to this question I most often think of a conversation I had about a month ago, with Zach, one of the pre-med majors from across the hall. We were sitting there with me lecturing him half-ironically on Shakespeare and him lecturing me half-ironically on cell systems. All of a sudden he got this sort of wistful look in his eye. It was late, and he must have been tired.
“I can’t wait until 28, man, I’ll tell ya that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I’ll be out of college, out of med school, done with my residency. I can finally take a break from all of this.”
I must have chastised him then, assuring him that this was the best and brightest spot of his life, that it was all downhill after college. Because that’s what I’d been told. I must have.
But now that I think about it, I’m resting a hell of a lot more hope in his life vision than mine. I hope this isn’t the best part of my life, not that it’s all that bleak or empty or unsatisfying or anything. But I hope I’m not done, I hope I’m not finished becoming the person I’m going to be. And if it means never truly finding this “college experience,” if it means sacrificing the ultimate era of joy and youth and all the Allston parties in the world for a lifetime of growth, I’m okay with that.
Colin Smith is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, and a weekly columnist for the Daily Free Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.