I’ve never been a nostalgic person, not for those years of being able to wear size 10 designer dresses and Ferragamo shoes – not even for the few years in which I got a couple of jalapenos on “Rate Your Professor.” And, although my undergraduate years were mind-opening and provided me with experience in honing my leadership skills as well as my ability to manage time, get sufficient sleep and exercise, and develop lifelong passion for the life of the mind and the rewards of learning, I can’t recall nostalgia for the undergraduate years. Perhaps part of the reason is that I never accepted that the college years were “the best years of my life.” What a depressing cliché! Believe that we peak at about 21 or 22, and it’s downhill from there? No thank you.
With any luck and some significant effort on our parts when we are undergraduates, the college experience can surely shape our lives, open us to remarkable opportunities, equip us with invaluable skills and help clarify our values. So, I’m sincerely hoping that students soon to graduate, to be kicked out, to drop out, or to transfer will retain some of the best of Trinity’s values.
For me, this from the university’s “Commitment to Excellence” conveys those well:
“The university strives to create an atmosphere in which basic civility and decency are expected, mutual respect and open communication are fostered, and sound religious faith and expression are encouraged.” (Though I did contribute to this document, you can bet those passive verbs weren’t mine.)
Surely, it’s unnecessary to point out that the state of our world has been better – that civil discourse and respect for the opinions, views and rights of others (especially those in some way different from ourselves) – seem on some horrific, interminable hiatus.
Since you’ve experienced what I consider much of the best that a liberal arts and sciences education can provide, I sincerely urge you to spread those values and use your talents (to paraphrase Thomas Carlyle) to become all you were created capable of being.
You’ll have some challenges. Sadly, you’ll rarely – if ever – find yourself surrounded by so many who share your values. In fact, you’ll occasionally look around and wonder where in the world did all those bright, articulate and assertive people go. What happened to all those different skin tones, hair and clothing styles? Some will find appalling the number of white, overweight males who are in charge wherever you settle. Many will surely join a book club and discover that no one but you admires Atwood, McCann, Roth or Morrison because your new, non-Trinity friends prefer to read books that provide escape rather than challenge them to think. Oh, and, of course, there’s got to be a happy ending. (I dare you – and them – to read Atwood’s essay by that title.)
But you can make a successful transition – leave “the bubble” and take the best of it with you.
Ever optimistic, I offer these specific suggestions to help ease you into the so-called “real world”:
1. Avoid jumping to conclusions based on first impressions; give everyone a chance. Be open and accepting, at least until you realize you’re being stupid doing so.
2. Without sarcasm or your version of subtle irony, make known your views. Offer some illustrative, supportive detail for your opinions, not all of which need be scriptural.
3. Never, ever use “like” as a filler when you speak.
4. Though you have every reason to do so, do not condescend to those who did not have the privilege of the Trinity experience.
5. Retain (within reason) your sense of self. In a bind – and there will be binds – recite silently the Red Queen’s advice to Alice, “Use French when you don’t know the English word for a thing, walk with your toes out, and remember who you are.”
I sincerely believe you can manage to be “all that you were created capable of being” and that doing so will include conducting yourself as a person who contributes to making this a better world – a world more guided by a “commitment to excellence.”
I will miss many of you, and I sincerely wish you all Godspeed.
P.S. Though no one commented, I made an error in my last column and must correct it: though Susanna York did co-star in “TOM JONES,” the actress in the infamous dining scene wasn’t York, but Joyce Redman. Here’s a couple of clichés worth using: “live and learn” – “acknowledge your mistakes.”
Coleen Grissom is a professor of English.