A fair number of the students I teach may then not know why they are in college (having given really no thought to it). They are just there, as that student put it, in a kind of robotoid state on automatic pilot not wanting or seeking any larger or greater purpose to their situation than to get through it with as little strain and as quickly as possible so they can get onto whatever the next step is supposed to be.
Once upon a time I used to give the students a you-really-don’t-know-what-you-have-got-speech. College, I would say, that’s nothing. College is a snap. For all the talk of being stressed out, you are walking on the sunny side of the street. College—you will look back upon its horrors and terrors—once you get out there into your 20s—quite fondly. You have not been to hell—I pour it on—until you are in your 20s.
Have you even thought about it? About getting a job? And finding out it sucks? Or getting a job and then losing it and having to move back in with your parents? 26 years old and living with your parents? Can you imagine that? It’s enough to make you get married to the wrong person, no less?
So as you round the curve towards 30, you will have probably gone through a couple of jobs, a couple of relationships, and maybe a marriage. Possibly along the way you will have become addicted to something and had to go through detox. You will have contracted herpes or venereal warts. If you are a woman your butt will have started to sag and if you are a man your gut will. If you are lucky, you will have a job you can at least stand, no children, and not buried up to your necks in debt. Because this is America. It’s dog eat dog and devil take the hindmost.
You haven’t seen shit yet. I pray for your sake that your parents have the money to help you buy a house because you won’t get one otherwise, and oh, you should call your parents tonight and make sure they have taken care of their old age because the last thing you want is to feel that you have to take care of them at about the point you are trying to send your two irresponsible ungrateful brats off to college.
I stopped giving that speech though because all it seemed to do was bleak them out. They would sort of sit there with their mouths agape. Sometimes I wonder if anybody has ever bothered to talk to them straight. Tell me I am wrong, I said, tell me I am wrong. But they couldn’t. And from stuff I started to read I realized I wasn’t making it up. I was too close to the truth.
Articles were appearing, informed by the ruminations of concerned sociologists, about how many young people had to go home after college. Getting that first and last months rent together, plus a cleaning deposit, plus trying to keep the car going and having suitable clothes for work or the job search—well, students had to reply on my ma and pa for continued support. And the idiot sociologists were concerned that this move back to ma and pa would interrupt or somehow distort the life process of young people.
I call the sociologists idiots because it was clear to me in 1985 that adolescence had been prolonged into the late 20s and early 30s. We have come a long way from Rousseau who pegged adolescence as lasting six weeks.