As I become more firmly entrenched in my second year at UMass, a disturbing trend has revealed itself to me: the refusal of students to acknowledge that they matter. In high school, this trend was apparent and almost expected. Students felt pressured to take serious, upper-level classes and throw themselves headfirst into extracurriculars and community service, whether or not they were interested in what they were doing. We did all of this so that we could appease our parents, impress good colleges and fit in with our friends (who were probably doing the same thing). But now that we’ve entered college, life should be different.
College provides a fresh start after high school – the opportunity to choose majors and classes that interest and excite us, the fun and unique clubs and organizations to find a home in and, ideally, the total freedom from unwanted parental expectations or institutional pressures.
Or at least that’s what I thought. But as it turns out, we are still unable to mentally free ourselves from the terror of making ourselves happy.
We still feel pressured to dedicate ourselves to majors that we don’t feel passionate about and we stay in classes that we hate because we’re afraid of what will happen if we drop them. We spend countless hours cramming information (that we don’t care to know) into our already-fried brains for tests the next morning.
When do we start living our lives for ourselves? When do we stop thinking about what will impress or please other people and start thinking about what will make us contented and stimulated? Nothing depresses me more than listening to my friends and acquaintances talk forlornly about their need to apply themselves to a “practical” major so that they can get a decent job and pay off their student loans. If this is how we continue to live and think, then we will never be able to truly get what we want.
We should be in college because we want to be. We should be in our majors because we want to be. We should be in our classes because we want to be. Our passion for the work we’re doing should make us want to do it.
That is why I encourage every student to sit down and think honestly about what it is they actually want to be doing – what would make them truly happy – and confront their desire to pursue their dreams not with fear, but with determination and excitement. We are in college for a reason: not to get a job that pays the bills, but to work in careers we love and care about. If we allow our devotion to the former to make all of our decisions, we will never be content with our lives. We will always wonder what would happen if we had taken a chance.
That’s why, in my own life, I have instituted a policy: A policy that says that I matter. My life is my own and nobody else’s. If I’m taking a class that I don’t care about or don’t like, I’ll drop it. If something bothers me, I’ll speak up. If I have questions, I’ll ask. If I have passions, I’ll pursue them. If the concept of taking a risk scares me, I’ll confront it.
We have spent too long being told and telling ourselves that our opinions, our thoughts and our feelings don’t matter. We’ve been told not to rock the boat, not to put all our eggs in one basket, not to look a gift horse in the mouth and that it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. We’ve been conducting our lives based on these tired old clichés, never bothering to consider what would happen if we actually questioned them.
College is not a place for entrapment, but for expansion and exploration. We’ve been told that college will be the place where we spend the best four years of our lives, but we’ve also been told that college is where we go to get an impressive degree to get an impressive job. So which is it? Maybe it’s both, but it also must be the place where we begin our lives of independence and assertiveness, of self-gratification, self-confidence and acceptance of self-worth. We, not all of the warnings and limitations that we’ve been subjected to up until now, should be running the show.
Elise Martorano is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]