Get a Clue, College-Bound!

What would you tell your teenage self?

by Steve Halasz

Dear Steve,

It’s 1966 and you’re excited and nervous about starting your first year at Hiram, a small liberal arts college on a pleasant hill in Ohio that has a well-deserved reputation for intellectualism.  As your 64 year old self, I know what’s coming and so I’m writing to clue you in.

You are going to Hiram because (1) it’s a charming campus with lovely old buildings on a sweet hillside with a great view of the countryside, (2) it’s not far from home, (3) you got a scholarship, (4) Harvard didn’t accept you.  But mostly, you’re going there because you are an intellectual, and there are few places in the U.S. where intellectuals are more welcomed.

It’s almost a dirty word these days, “intellectual”.  In a few years the Vice President of the United States will mock you as a “pointy-headed ineffectual”.  But for now, intellectualism is alive and well at Hiram.  You were interviewed by a philosophy professor and an art professor.  The philosophy professor waxed ecstatic when you described your difficulties expressing things for which language seemed inadequate.  The art professor, almost completely non-verbal, seemed satisfied when you were able to identify the subject matter of the Picassos he showed you and express your feelings about them.  You were accepted into the “honors” program, which means that you will meet weekly at a professor’s home to express your thoughts.  You have died and gone to heaven.

It won’t last.  One year of that and everything will change.  Hiram College can no longer survive financially as an anachronistic bastion of vaporous thought.  Besides, it’s the 60s, and the life is being re-invented.  All that old stuff that you love so much is now irrelevant.  You’ll have to “get with it”.

Magically, you will find that Hiram has a superb English department.  You will get what it’s all about with Shakespeare, develop understanding and love of poetry, and end up majoring in English.  You will meet your first wife and get married before you graduate.  You will draw a high number in the draft lottery and won’t have to go to Vietnam.

You’ll go to law school and that will be a disaster.  It will be boring and you’ll spend your time drinking, playing ping-pong and discussing Wittgenstein with your philosophy grad school neighbor.  You will almost flunk out, and when you do finally graduate in 1973 with the economy in deep hole, you won’t be able to get a job as a lawyer.  You will try working as an independent journalist, and when that fails, you will eke out a meager existence for 4 years as a solo practitioner.

Eventually you will get yourself sorted out and switch from law to computer programming.  Life will be up and down and you will live mostly hand to mouth.  You will have wonderful adventures and very dark times.  Your son will go to Cornell where he will get an entirely useless education, but he will be on the cross country ski team, meet a wonderful woman, marry her and end up really quite OK.

So with the knowledge of what’s to come, here’s my advice to you as to what you should do differently as you enter college:  nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  This is your life, get on with it.  Don’t worry about it.  Don’t over-think it.

It’s you.

Steven J. Halasz is an APL programmer for Fiserv Corp. in New Jersey.   When he’s not working on his house in Montclair, he writes unpublished fiction.

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Author: Brooke Allen

A social entrepreneur and retired Wall Street executive.

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