The world is waiting for us to
change -- has college prepared us to do that?
By David Sweeney
May 3, 2007 | Here I am just three credits from graduation;
you think I'd be planning for life on the other side,
as I have done for eight laborious semesters. Instead,
from the vantage of hindsight, I find myself sorting
through four years of Aggie memories.
From the Borders café, by cosmic coincidence, I hear
John Mayer's Waiting for the World to Change,
the song referenced by Utah State English Professor
Patricia Gantt at the Last Lecture in April. Contrary
to the song title, Gantt told students, the world waits
for them -- Carpe diem!
It's a shame the Last Lecture was one of the first
special lectures I'd attended at Utah State University.
I've found that the majority of lectures are scheduled
around the lunch hour, the idea being that most students
are free then.
I was not. For music students, the early afternoon
is nearly always booked with rehearsals. I would frequently
plan to attend a special event only to find, each time,
that I couldn't go.
This is one of my biggest regrets. I have always felt
that education should not be bound to a classroom, study
guide or major. In fact, after two years in music, an
anthropology elective was one of the best classes I
The class was "Ethnography of Childhood"
with Professor David Lancy and, though HASS advising
told me I needed the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
credit, it counted for nothing.
Perhaps that's why I enjoyed it so much. Without conditions,
I was free to learn on my own, which is exactly what
Lancy was teaching us to do. Isn't that what college
is for -- to teach you how to ride once the training
wheels and guiding hand are gone?
Lancy's class changed the way I think. It taught me
that what works for one person doesn't for another,
and that's OK. For each belief or attitude or statement
there are one hundred times again as many perspectives.
Of everything I learned, this is the most valuable:
as ethnocentric thinking pits culture against culture,
so, too, does tunnel vision pigeonhole us students by
Herman Hesse puts it more succinctly in his novella
"'When a person seeks,' Siddhartha said, 'it
can easily happen that his eye sees only the thing he
is seeking; he is incapable of allowing anything to
enter into him, because he is always thinking only of
what he is looking for, because he has a goal, because
he is possessed by his goal.'"
College is designed to funnel us each toward a specialized
end. As experts in a certain subject, we will each find
our niche, the presumption being we will make more money
than we would have without a diploma.
There's a danger here, though. Once we label ourselves,
or identify or achieve a goal, we can become apathetic,
know-it-alls or, worse still, apathetic know-it-alls.
If, upon hearing a perspective that differs from our
own, we immediately disregard it as invalid, we've placed
a detrimental filter around your sphere of knowledge.
The same applies to all aspects of education. We can't
disregard a class or subject as unimportant because
Nor can we disregard what we learn outside of the
classroom. Eric Smigel, my music history professor,
taught me to question everything. Though (most) professors
are wise, he said, don't pretend they're infallible.
Take advantage of their knowledge, but also take advantage
of all of the resources around you, specifically other
students. To that I would add: visit the counseling
center when you need help. It's a nice respite from
finals week, and it's free.
Some of my favorite moments have been talking with
a counselor on the third floor of the Taggart Student
Center, above the din of my crazy college life. In a
few short weeks, I learned more about myself than I
did in many classes. Similarly, I looked forward to
my time at the Quad Side Café -- where, by my senior
year, I was hanging around almost daily -- talking with
other students from other majors about what they were
I advise all students to study outside their majors,
even outside their non-major electives, and to enjoy
it. We all have to learn what is required for our major
-- that is a given, if we are to graduate. No one can
force us, however, to expand our own minds before, during
or after we graduate. Take a chance on a class you know
nothing about. Don't be afraid to disagree with professors,
or even rock stars. I, too, think Mayer has it backward:
the world is waiting for us to change.