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Why are you at college?

Surely you have some friends. An intelligent, motivated person like your self certainly has at least some semblance of a family. There must be someone with whom you plan to converse over winter break. When that someone asks you why you are wasting your time and money by attending college, what are you going to say?

You have two options. You may decide to 1) tell the truth, or 2) lie. I have worked it over in my head for a couple of years now, and these are the only two possibilities I’ve been able to produce. You might as well just take my word for it and just resign yourself to engaging in one of those two options.

Let us say, for the sake of argument, that you have decided to work your reply around option one, “tell the truth.” Having reached this point, the first question to ask yourself is, “Why am I wasting my time and money going to school?” If this query seems too hard to answer, try rephrasing the question. “Why am I investing my resources to earn a degree?”, might elicit a better response.

Do we all have answers with which we (pardon my pronouns) can live? Try repeating your statement to yourself in the shower; mutter it under your breath in Neuberger Hall. Ask yourself, “How will my uncle take my response? What will my old drinking buddy think of my explanation? What would Miss America, Katie Harman, say?” Engaging in this mental exercise should prepare you for any uncomfortable silences from the family or reasonable objections from friends.

Personally, I prefer option number two. Lying allows me to utter statements that might otherwise remain unspoken for eternity. Without stretching the truth, when would I be able to say, “My comprehensive understanding of Wordsworth’s engagement with memory has enabled me to conclude that mutual funds constitute a sound investment?” Of course, there are those who will not accept such arguments, no matter how intelligently you state them.

Whether you choose to stretch the truth or tell it like it is, talking about college tends to put people on the defensive. Some folks are all too ready to believe that by talking about school, you’re really saying, “I am a smarter and, therefore, better personthan you are.” When I took an extended leave from university life, I was just that kind of person.

During my extended leave (that term always sounded better to me than “dropout days”), any mention of academia threw me into a red alert. Friends who were just trying to talk about their daily lives often found themselves the target of my rages and rants. I still refuse to identify my self as a student when strangers ask me, “What do you do?”

Just as there are two approaches to justifying the scholarly life, there are two different audiences for these justifications. One is the person who doesn’t approve of college at all. The other is the person who thinks that college is a good idea, but majoring in philosophy with a minor in art makes no sense at all. And no matter what you say when the inevitable question arises, you lie.