The specter of post-college
Charlie Low recently drew upon the deepest hopes and desires of thousands of past and current WUSTLers by writing the perennial mid-college coming-of-age column, entitled in his case, “Who wants to live in the real world? Not me.” I should apologize to Charlie right away, because he is going to be the whipping boy for the myriad of articles before him that have expressed the same sentiment: “I caught a glimpse of what life after college is like, and boy, am I glad I’m here.”
I’ve been there, Charlie. I’ve come back from three months of gray cubicle walls and appreciated the variety and vibrancy of Washington University more than I did before. I’ve sat in front of a computer for eight hours and copied and stapled and gotten up early, and I’ve realized that we have it good.
But here’s the deal. Charlie is representative of a frighteningly overwhelming mentality at Wash. U. that commits to a great passion for activity in college (extracurriculars, drunkenness both included) because of its awareness of the great banality of post-University life. “Well, this is it,” many of us conclude. “Where’s the bottle-opener?”
The ’geist is even more potent as many of us enter senior year. “Oh, right, you’re a senior,” underclassmen will say, reminded. And even September, fall semester, we grimace and wave our arms. “No, no, don’t say that!” we plead. I don’t even want to think about our responses when we’re late-April almost-laureates.
I wonder this about that: If you’ve been attending Washington University for four years, and you’ve all along been preparing your mind and your body for intrinsic excellence, and you’ve identified one or two things you are passionate about within the college environment, AND you have no sense of excitement about the unknown that “faces us” after we graduate with really good-looking degrees and critical mindsets meant to engage and change the universe, what the hell is wrong with you?
To put it a little less offensively, it seems to me that if you haven’t acquired a sense of adventure, of taking on the new, of seizing opportunities in a competitive environment while you’ve been at Wash. U., you’ve essentially been sitting at home for the last four years letting your mom make you grilled cheese and cut it into sailboats.
If you don’t want to sit in a cubicle and be really, really boring when you graduate from college, don’t. If your options are go to Chicago and wait tables 10 hours a day and then come home to your miniscule apartment and write fiction until you fall asleep, or kill a year before you go to med school by saving baby animals from man-made ecological disasters in Alaska, or work on a cooperative vineyard in Greece until you get bored or lonely and feel like coming back to the States, I’d say things are looking pretty good.
You can do whatever you want to do. If the real world looks bad, it’s because you’ve resigned yourself to a life that is stupid and won’t work for you. The real world is whatever you want it to be. You have to make money. But you don’t have to make that much.
It’s an open field. Washington University is supposed to have been your training facility. You’re young. Run.