First Draft: Procrastination, or the Importance of College Today

Posted by at 9:42PM

(Because I couldn’t resist a Perlstein response! Even a rough one.)
Nonscientifically gathered top three answers to the question “How’s it going?” or “What’d you do today?” at Stanford:
1) “Procrastinated.”
2) “Nothing.”
3) “Chilled.”
These types of answers aren’t just a Stanford phenomenon either; nearly every student at college that I’ve talked to answers similarly. And, nearly always, these answers are accompanied with an apology and guilt. There’s a certainty, on the part of the answerer, that others are working much harder and more productively, and yet, the answerer does not want to distinguish him- or herself too much from the crowd. And so a retreat into a sort of comfortable average: one that perceives itself as having the ability to work harder and wastes a ton of time.
One of the last things I can remember my mom saying to me, before she left me at Stanford was this: “You’re going to have so much fun at college. The time will just fly by.” And she paused after she said this; I could tell she wanted to go back.
She was right, of course. I bet most current college students would agree. College is fun, and we’ve expected college to be really really fun since at least high school. All of us have seen Old School, okay?; we’ve seen Animal House, we’ve seen Billy Madison; and we expected it to be more than parties: we’ve seen the inspirational stuff too, we’ve seen Good Will Hunting and that all that sappy stuff.
So college has been pumped up for all of us. It’s that gateway between being a kid and being an adult; we start getting to have adult fun with kid responsibility. We were all expecting college.
Those expectations come with a weight, and that weight is why “Procrastination” is the most popular answer to the question “What’d you do today?”
This attitude ultimately shows exactly why college is just as important as in the Sixties, just in a different way and with different attitudes for different times.


One of the last things I can remember my mom saying to me, before she left me at Stanford was this: “You’re going to have so much fun at college. The time will just fly by.” And she paused after she said this; I could tell she wanted to go back.
She was right, of course. I bet most current college students would agree. College is fun, and we’ve expected college to be really really fun since at least high school. All of us have seen Old School, okay?; we’ve seen Animal House, we’ve seen Billy Madison; and we expected it to be more than parties: we’ve seen the inspirational stuff too, we’ve seen Good Will Hunting and that all that sappy stuff.
So college has been pumped up for all of us. It’s that gateway between being a kid and being an adult; we start getting to have adult fun with kid responsibility. We were all expecting college.
Those expectations come with a weight, and that weight is why “Procrastination” is the most popular answer to the question “What’d you do today?”

—-

My dad had a very good point before I got on the plane to go to Stanford. His point was this: “You know, you might be average at Stanford.” Administrators repeated the point in their official speeches. It became a banality by the end of orientation. We got it, okay? We might get a D or something, okay? But then we turned out to be average, and we knew on a visceral level what had been pounded into our heads intellectually.
What had happened was that our visceral expectations were betrayed. We were going to go into college and conquer the place: we’d be super-intellectuals who partied all the time who landed the great job after school. Oops.
What had gone wrong? Well, we were the Best in High School; we figured that would carry over to college, which would carry over to the “real world.” Once you don’t get the sterling results in college, then you have to ask yourself, “Why?” Most people (including myself) can’t get themselves to accept the fact that they’re average; instead, it must be some easily correctable flaw: we’re not working hard enough. We worked hard in high school to get our success; we see the successful kids, whether in class or in parties, practicing their craft all the time. We figure that we’re just not doing it, whatever it is that we lack, hard enough, constantly enough. To be honest, many of us aren’t willing to make that sacrifice, so we fall back on the mental excuse that truly, we were procrastinating.
The mental excuse of procrastination isn’t entirely unjustified either. The all-nighter dominates the college work schedule. Books are typically skimmed and isolated to certain chapters; study groups divide and conquer homework. Our work habits could probably stand an improvement. It wouldn’t make much of a difference, though, to be honest. First of all, we all do it. Secondly, the work is still pretty good anyway. So we’d still be average, and that wouldn’t solve the problem.
The problem, to get cliché about the whole thing, is that we’ve confused meanings of “great” when we say “college is a great experience.” Other people mean, “you’ll have fun” and that’s true, but we mean “we’ll have fun and be transcendent.” We expect to be transcendent as a generation, I think. This is especially true at a place like Stanford, where everybody is some sort of high achiever. What we don’t appreciate is contentment.
—-

We expect to be great, and that is why college is critical to our generation. We see progress as orderly and proceeding in lockstep. The best from high school go on to college; the best are further winnowed into the best jobs/”real world” experiences. Hence the college step is necessary for that Google, Investment Bank, etc. job. We are not wholly money-obsessed; there are prestigious nonprofit jobs as well. The point is to do something impressive.
Part of the reason college is critical to our generation is because we think it’s critical.
—-

This essay might sound too critical of college and our generation; I do not mean it to be. This time in our lives will end up being critical by virtue of chronology. Whatever people are doing at the transition from childhood to adulthood will always be critical in our minds, that it is college and achievement in the future for our generation is accidental. So yes, college is extremely critical in our psyches. It’s important to set ourselves up for the real world (I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked what I want to do as a job).
One of my high school friends once told me a quote from her dad, “Pretty much the only time we aren’t preparing for the future is when we’re dead.” This is pretty apt of the college attitude today, or least the attitude in the back of all our minds. We’ve got our futures to think about, people.
Besides, we end up having a lot of fun.

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2 Responses to “First Draft: Procrastination, or the Importance of College Today”

  1. AnlamK says:

    “Most people (including myself) can’t get themselves to accept the fact that they’re average; instead, it must be some easily correctable flaw: we’re not working hard enough.”
    Admitting this may differentiate you from most Stanford folk.
    I don’t have a hard time admitting that I am average. I have a hard time accepting that I am (perhaps below) average.

  2. handyman jacksonville says:

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