I want you to try something.
The next time you’re on campus, hold on for just one moment. Stop where you are. Maybe you’re in the UTSC Mall, the long rectangle between four buildings with the section of tall grass. More likely you’re in the Meeting Place, because right now it’s freaking cold outside. Now, just for a moment, think about what’s going on around you. Maybe there’s some event going on in the Meeting Place for your benefit, or maybe the Farmer’s Market is here right now. While you’re here, you might as well talk to a representative about a volunteer position, or sample some baked goods. Watch the culture of students, flowing around the place like bees. Bite into the apple strudel you just bought. It’s delicious.
Too many students, I think, live with tunnel vision. They walk to class with a kind of piercing intensity; anything not immediately in front of them is secondary. After class they go to a study space. If they can’t immediately find one, well, how could anyone be so arrogant as to deprive them of their study space? They are furious. At the end of the day they go home, in that same undeviating straight line. Every day is the same: go to class, study, go home; everything else is secondary.
But you, drinking in the warmth and humanity of the Meeting Place, munching on a sweet pastry, are not one of those people.
Too often, classes become some sort of grade machine. Get in, get out, get grades, get degree, get a job, and then life starts. And then a person can be happy. University is no longer a place to learn; it’s now a sort of secondary job. There’s no delight anymore in the profound new knowledge professors can grant you, in the interesting readings that can shape, in small or big ways, your basic beliefs and wisdom that you use to govern how you live your life. Deep questions about ethics, knowledge, and humanity are being replaced by “Professor, will this be on the exam?”
There are people who treat English and philosophy degrees with a smug kind of derision. The thinking is, “I’m better than you because I have a higher chance of getting a job that pays better.” University, then, is treated as merely a means to an end, a passport to a more acceptable life. Surprisingly, happiness never comes into the equation. That a liberal arts education teaches a person to think, and that this gift and the journey leading to it might possibly be more fulfilling than a comfortable corporate job somewhere, is an idea that few people ponder.
University is more than this. It’s not only about the window office it might give to you in the future, although it can be useful for that. This kind of tunnel vision, this singular focus on the end, will never make you happy, no matter how much you earn.
So stop once in a while. Pause your tight routine and eat some apple strudel. Fulfillment comes from the meantime, not the end. Everything else is secondary.