Lately I’ve been thinking about school and life and whether any of it really matters in the end. You see, if a summer spent living in Vietnam taught me anything, it taught me that you can’t become a fully formed person in a classroom and you can’t imagine how much world exists out there.
I sit here, in my comfortable Corvallis home, I sit here and I see a massive football stadium next to a sign that welcomes you to Oregon State University. At this educational institution, the first thing you see is a stadium. While not a football fan myself, I can’t decide if this is a bad thing because sports have determined the trajectory of my life. But that’s not what I want to talk about. College athletics should be celebrated, but for most, it’s a five year endeavor, if not four.
And what happens next? The corporate grind, the domestic dream, the complacent life. When we leave this college bubble–everyone, not just the student-athletes–where do we go? For most, it seems a career or more school is the next step. For me, I want to go everywhere.
Maybe I’m delusional, but I have to believe that there is more than one way to live, that a steady job with a steady income and a steady, predictable life is not my only option. Sure, if I wanted to own a car and a house, I would need to save money from said steady job, but why would I want a car or a house when I could buy plane tickets all over the world?
You see, sometimes I get restless; I get antsy, so I experiment and overindulge and experience because this is it, this is the one chance I get to go and do and be in the only body and mind I have. In the end, why should I fret over an exam on colonial American literature when that doesn’t excite me, when I would rather read contemporary books about race and gender and actually learn something about myself and the world I live in? I have 15 waking hours each day, why on earth would I spend even one minute on busy work?
Throughout my education, I’ve had a handful of classes that completely, profoundly blew my mind. Classes that challenged my worldview and moved me to think, deeply. If every single class I took blew my mind, I would embrace their grind because I would emerge a better human for it; I would shout to the world that college is life, that education changes everything. But each term, I’m lucky if I have just one of these classes.
It shouldn’t surprise me, then, that for the past three summers I’ve grown and matured more in that three month time frame than I do in the full nine months I sit in classes. In 2013, I listened to every Radiolab episode during my commute and spent every day working in an organic garden with three other worldly, interesting people. In 2014, I interacted with people from every corner of the world to pull off an international track meet. And in 2015, I actually went to another corner of the world and learned that abstract thinking doesn’t mean much when your main concern is to survive.
It’s great that we have brilliant people in these institutions that challenge us to think and question and analyze, but the stuff that really matters, the movements and the change this world needs, happens outside those walls. I subscribe to the belief that I can change the world, but I don’t believe I can do that armed with a degree alone.
I did not have the cliché education abroad experience; I did not live blissfully worry-free for two months, spending my days sipping coffee and my nights dancing with the locals. When I left Vietnam, I was ready to leave because it was hot and polluted and challenging, but above all I was ready for my next stop in the world. I returned to a life of running and reading and friends and even though a huge chunk of my savings was gone, my heart was full.
Now, I’m three quarters through my term and I spend my procrastination time looking at plane tickets and trying to articulate my thoughts. I had a lot of time to think when I lived in an internet-less homestay for a month, and in that time I clarified my priorities; the banality of a GPA was not high on that list. I understand that many of my opportunities can be traced to privilege, but I also understand that I have an obligation to maximize my resulting potential not just as a student, but as a world citizen. Because I have set myself up to have freedom in my future, I feel empowered to take risks and go all-in for my quest to matter.
Right now, I know what I care about–I care about running and learning about the world through books and experience. I’ve learned to live obnoxiously in the present moment–perhaps being surrounded by Buddhism all summer contributed to this–so when I don’t want to write an analysis about 19th century American literature, I just don’t. I have more important things to think about, like how soon I can get to Latin America to practice my Spanish and how I can read every book on my bookshelf. I have a responsibility to live with awareness and compassion, and while that can come from those rare, mind-blowing classes, I think it’s more likely to come when I feel free to live with purpose and clarity.
I’m not practical; I’m unapologetically idealistic. But that just means that when something doesn’t matter to me, I disregard it, and when something does matter to me, I believe in it full force. In this moment, I want to sit wrapped in a blanket with acid music so loud it’s the only thing I hear while I write about my inability to invest in my classes this term. I’ll write my academic essay eventually, but only when it feels slightly more important.
For now, I’ll look out my window at that football stadium and that sign and wonder what my last two years in college can give me that dropping everything to move across the world could not. For now, that’s enough, but if I maintain my momentum, then the most conventional part of my life has already happened. And in the end, I guess it all matters, because it all brought me to now.