Do we strive to seek, to find, and not to yield, as Tennyson once wrote, or do we only strive to find the next hook-up and keg?
The perception of college students in America is changing. The ever-growing ubiquity of attendance at a four-year college or university has essentially added an extra stage of maturation to the American youth’s life cycle. This new “young adulthood” from ages 18 to 22 should be a period of meaningful formation. But the expectation, if not outright assumption, of this period allows various contributing factors, such as alcohol and the overall separation from adult responsibilities, to corrupt and stunt the maturation process. Undergraduates are increasingly being infected with a Peter Pan Syndrome that is slowly changing our perception in the public eye from diligent students and achievers to mindless lushes and immature hedonists.
Perhaps the time has come when a reappraisal of the role of undergraduate studies in our formation as human beings and citizens must take place. Perhaps the time has come when the presence and proliferation of alcohol in our generation must be challenged and reevaluated. This is in no way a condemnation of alcohol itself or the prototypical undergrad in general—I simply mean to raise the simply worded but utterly complicated question, “Why are we here?” (Meaning at Boston College, of course.) Is it the pursuit of knowledge and higher education, as it was for our ancestors, or is it for something more tangible, baser? Do we strive to seek, to find, and not to yield, as Tennyson once wrote, or do we only strive to find the next hook-up and keg?
Society has been distorted to the point where the 18th birthday is now barely even a token age, with our most common options for celebration ranging between gambling and smoking with other unsavory options in between. Graduation from high school means next to nothing today because we acquire so few additional responsibilities heading into college. We come into college with a four-year reprieve from true adulthood. And though this new stage of young adulthood has potential for growth and self-improvement, it is the ingrained fear and removal from true adulthood that leads us to dull our experiences behind a booze and casual drug-fueled haze. Crippled by a lack of certainty about what we want in adult life and unable to answer the crucial question of purpose, we spend the four years of college dreading our looming responsibilities and focusing on drowning ourselves in as much carefree, noncommittal fun as possible. This reprieve, this Peter Pan Syndrome, has made young adulthood a grim perversion of maturation wherein we grow older but grow no wiser, as if someone just cruelly taped together the pupa of a budding butterfly and told it to stew for another four years. They say college is the time when you find yourself, but I’m not entirely sure that it isn’t an outdated idiom. In my experience, college has become a place where students find themselves trapped in a shell of expectations and false identity.
As students at a prestigious Jesuit University, we have pushed ourselves above and beyond all our lives—we are the masters of our own maturation. And so, with this in mind, we should feel compelled to consider whether college is nearly the threshold everyone makes it out to be and that the slight inconvenience of having to do our own laundry while still glutting off the prepared foods of dining halls does little to prepare us for the rigors of adult life.
And while many drink responsibly, both legally and illegally, we must question the fact that we have chosen to build the temple of our education around an ark that contains within it nothing but a depressant. We have to acknowledge the impact of perverting and fetishizing the benefits of alcohol to the point where it has become some all-encompassing rite of passage and to where alcohol abuse is not uncommon on our campuses.
The looming burst of the college bubble is well forecast. It may already be too late to save the value of our degrees and the prosperous futures of the institutions we called home, but it cannot be too late to save our reputation and our credibility by reevaluating the activities in which we participate, and the degree to which we take them. It cannot be too late to dispel the sense of immaturity and entitlement. Gifted with this educational opportunity, we cannot allow the people in this country who expect us to be leaders, from the blue collared worker to the well-established college grad, to believe that we are tone deaf and disconnected from reality or have otherwise lost our way. We mustn’t allow it to be the perceived norm, and it starts with one simple question, “Why are we here?”
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic