If parents, mentors, recent college graduates, or even your peers tell you that “college will be the best four years of your life,” tell them “I sure hope not.” Or, better yet, ask them why.
Most likely, they’ll tell you that your college years are going to be your last moments before entering the real world. Four years of carefree partying before things start to really matter, they’ll tell you. Before you become a real adult.
And, most likely, they are wrong.
It’s a common statement, nonetheless: “College will be the best four years of your life.” But it’s a strange thing to assert as a clear-cut truth. That engineers and artists, surgeons and traders, sorority sisters and SJWs, somebodies-who-became-nobodies and nobodies-who-became-somebodies will all agree that their best years were spent on a college campus between ages 18-22, living it up “before the real world.”
They are your parents. They are your older siblings. They are your peers.
And these “real-life” superheroes (who apparently all peaked at the exact same age) then look back on their college years, and encourage the next generation to experience their four years through the same rosé-colored lenses (yes, you read that right).
In a world that is harsh, and unfair, and at times impossible to accept, it’s almost instinct to reminisce on the good times, forgetting about what made them so good. And talking up “the college years,” and the opportunity they offer to escape from the challenges of the real world, reflects a short-term memory problem. Most of these nostalgic alumni have forgotten that their world had its own set of troublesome circumstances. In fact, there’s always a war to be fought, jobs to be denied and leaders who fail us. And the college careers of these “best-four-years” people came when the country was united on a progressive, activist path, on which college students were encouraged to join the revolution.
But now, tired of fighting and eager to protect us from the same kinds of battles that defined their “best four years,” these once-pioneers inspire their kids to just sit back and indulge ourselves, escaping reality. And escape, we do.
I’ve been through two of the “best four years of my life” at Duke University, and I’ve experienced a collegiate escapism that is not only practiced, but perpetuated. When our collegiate world is harsh, and unfair, and at times impossible to accept, we slip on those tinted glasses to reminisce way back to the debauchery of last night’s party, and look forward to taking in today’s escapist drug of choice: Netflix, Instagram, the next darty or basketball game, and maybe some shots and lines to lighten the mood.
This is the essence of the disinterested, isolated way of life. It not only divides our campuses, but disenfranchises our generation as individuals, stripping us of any sort of legitimacy because we aren’t “real adults” yet.
And so, denied the battles of our predecessors, we live out these “unreal” lifestyles in a pretty little bubble. We expend our energy in search of decadence, lost in days and nights of fantasy. We mull around with our homework, we sleep more than enough, we inhale gourmet food for no good reason, and once in a while we call home, to confirm that we are living reminisce-able (if not, meaningless) “best four years of our lives,” right now.
But this is where that advice has gone dangerously wrong. 20 years from now, what will matter to us about these four years? Right now, we hold the keys to adulthood, but are discouraged from opening any doors. Distracted by the temptation to escape, we’ve become too good at it to stop.
More than ever, today’s college students must learn how to recognize our world’s set of challenges, to raise our voices to represent ourselves, emboldened by professors and our peers and our own conscience. And we need to practice it, making ourselves active determinants of our own circumstances, domestic warriors in the real battles that must be fought. All the while, we can embrace the fact that we’re learning, we’re enjoying ourselves, and we’re young. But we’re still young adults.
There are glimpses of such young adults today. Just this year, my newspaper saw a problem with Duke’s in-house sexual assault cases, and chose to create a conversation about a victim, her assailant and the campus, disturbing the peace of our community. In the last North Carolina state election, my vote was one of the 5,000 college students directly responsible for ousting former Governor Pat McCrory and electing an African-American democrat to the state’s supreme court. I heard what Matters about Black Lives, I saw how an anti-immigration order terrorized my peers, and I felt the divisions that haunt Duke’s campus, and campuses across the country, on Nov. 9, 2016.
The pieces are here. Even the very escape routes themselves—our social media platforms and our Netflix shows—have become excellent grounds for representing our interests and creating meaningful communities. The balance between the carefree bliss that has been prescribed for us and the effective action that we can own is ours for the taking, moreso for us here and now than ever before.
But it starts with acknowledging that the real world doesn’t start in four years. It’s already begun, and we’re already behind in making it a better place. It’s not okay for college to be a “bubble.” College isn’t better than or separate from the real world; it is a part of the real world that only 40 percent of our generation have the great fortune to experience.
So don’t try to escape it. These four years of college are our first years of adulthood, our first years as influential, powerful people in the real world. Accept that, and begin to make the best of what very well might be the best four years of our lives.
Jackson Prince is a Trinity junior and the editorial page editor of The Chronicle.