Columns / Discourse / January 15, 2009

Neurocolumn: Thoughts on college life

So we’re back. You’re back, I’m back, Helmut’s back – after a six-week hiatus, we’ve returned to our conglomerated unit of fervent higher learning. The Gizmo is producing breakfast bagels a’ plenty, the bookstore has, once again, begun overcharging for paperbacks, and the sod on South Lawn has settled back into its stubborn shade of brown. Throughout the halls, excited squeals and hugs of greeting are numerous. As a suitemate of mine once quipped, this is the Week Where Everyone Loves Each Other.

And yet not all is perfect in these urbanized cornfields. There exists, beneath the surface of late adolescence and creative writing, a certain level of competition. If you happen to spy long enough on one of the many reunion conversations between the students this week, you’ll hear the tone of the chat move from ecstatic to aggressive.

Student A: “Hey! How are you? How’s life? How was your break?”

Student B: “Oh my gosh, it went by so slow! I was so incredibly bored…”

Student A: “Yeah, me too!”

Student B: “No, I mean, you don’t understand, I was like, bored to tears. I didn’t even have a job to distract me!”

At this point in the conversation, Student A has detected that they’re being challenged. Their brow slightly furrowed, but their faces still twisted into that welcome-back smile, they will defensively respond that they, too, survived break unemployed. To admit defeat – to emerge as the classmate who hated winter break the least – is to be considered something less than a true Knoxonian.

In some more extreme cases, an unwitting student will go so far as to declare their break as “fun,” “busy,” or “refreshing,” all of which cause the speaker to be immediately ostracized. If you went backpacking in Australia or spent December in Hawaii, you’d better hope it was a snoozefest. If you held a job for those six hellish holiday-season weeks, you’d still do well to come back to school and declare yourself “broke.” Perhaps most important of all, the answer to the what-you-got-for-Christmas question is always, always one of these two responses:

1. “Oh, nothing special. I didn’t ask for anything this year.”

2. “Well, all I asked for was [insert technological apparatus]. So I just got that, and that’s all.”

This way, when you come back from break with an iHome or a new Dell super-pixel monitor, you won’t appear overindulged.

Last but not least, the issue of “friends from home” may enter your discussions this week and it is best that you be prepared. All I can tell you is, proceed with caution. Many people have lost their connection with high school chums by now, you see, and if you still return to the ‘burbs to have fun with yours, you don’t want to be declared a turncoat before everyone. Go for the path of least resistance: say that those high school people “are fun, but they’ve all changed.”

Because that’s no lie; they have. They’ve evolved, just as you and I have, and just as Helmut’s cuisine continues to do. Nothing suspect about that; we become more aware of what we value and how we choose to enjoy ourselves. Really, that’s the most mature thing we could be doing.

But seriously, don’t tell them what you got for Christmas.

Marnie Shure


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