What Is It Good For?

A sophomore asked me if, as a senior, I felt like I had everything figured out. I laughed and told her no, not at all—I’m still looking for answers like I was freshman year, just not necessarily the same ones. I know that I’d rather schedule all my classes in the mornings so that I have the rest of the day to myself, and I have the outline of a post-grad plan to work with. It involves an apartment somewhere in Boston and some sort of journalism. I’ve got small things figured out. But everything? Not a chance.

The biggest question I still have is this: What is the point? Why do we do all of this—the clubs, the service, the leadership positions, the rigorous classes? Why do we celebrate the fact that it’s so rigorous? We stress ourselves out to no end with all of the things we have to do, and sometimes I wonder why. Will my future employer care that I was never editor-in-chief? I’ve done good things in college, but in five years will people care about what I did? Will I?

Don’t get me wrong, I have adored my years at BC. I’ve grown so much in how I solve problems, how I see the world, what I care about and consider important, how I think. But those two science classes I took? I won’t remember a single thing from either of them — and don’t even get me started on that math class I struggled through.

So I wonder. What do people expect of me, now that I’m almost done with a liberal arts education? Do they think I’ll be like a mini encyclopedia—someone who knows a little bit about everything? If so, they’re in for disappointment. I read Plato and Aristotle last year, but I can’t remember much about either of them. I was too busy writing a 25-page biography on an American reporter for another class. It’s a miracle that thing got finished, though, because there were also two articles to be written for The Heights every week, a swing dance to practice for, and events to organize for the Cuban American Students’ Association. And yes, I signed up for all of those things. I knew what I was getting myself into. The stress is normal. It’s encouraged.

You can rewrite that last paragraph by just filling in the blanks to fit your own schedule, I’m sure. We all do it. We at BC are overachievers, writing five pages for a paper instead of four, or fiddling with the margins to get every last drop of knowledge printed out and handed in. One of my professors said he gave a student a C on a paper, and the next day she showed up in his office and said to him, “You might not know this, but I’m an A student.” We celebrate perfection and feel broken if we don’t reach it.

In five years, what I did at BC isn’t going to matter. Even if I had started a club or somehow left a bigger mark on campus, someone could come around in those five years and completely upend it. I’ve worried so much about what people think of me and what grades I’m going to get, when really, the only thing I should be worried about is what makes me happy. I don’t know what the point of this rat race is—you go to college to get a job to make money to pay for stuff, most of which you don’t actually need. Then you’re gone, and unless you invented something to change the world, you vanish.

I realize that I’m trying to figure out the meaning of life here, and that in the next hundred words or so I’m not going to find it. But I still wonder about it. If most of us are leading lives of quiet desperation like Thoreau said, what’s the point of stressing ourselves out in college? Are we supposed to live for other people, constantly giving pieces of ourselves away, or are we supposed to find ourselves and live for our own happiness? Are we supposed to do both—is that even possible? If we fail to leave an indelible mark on the world, have we failed at life? Where the heck does that class I took on rivers fit into this mess?

I don’t know. I’m only a senior in college, and I certainly don’t have it all figured out.

Featured Image by Allison Lehman / Death to Stock Photos

November 23, 2014