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Opinion

College experience provides insight into societal norms, fallacies

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April 16, 2009

The situation I’m about to describe to you is a true story, and by true, I mean false. It never happened. But it would be funny if it did, and it might save us a lot of late-semester stress and uncertainty. So here goes.

To begin the story, it’s a bright, sunny day at the UW-River Falls. The grass is getting greener, the sky bluer, the bee and squirrel attacks more violent. But none of this cheers up the young UWRF student; let’s call her “Katie”; who is trudging down the path to Hagestad Hall.

Her pretty brown eyes, which once twinkled with excitement, are now dull with exhaustion. Her dark hair is thrust into a rather desperate ponytail, since she didn’t have time to wash it this morning. An invisible rain cloud seems to hang over her head today, although her tank top and sweat pants remain dry.

For the first time, Katie is going to Counseling Services. It’s not something she wants to do. But despite her best efforts, assignments are piling up and finals are looming ever closer. She’s sick of it all, and doesn’t know where to turn.

By the time she manages to find the office, she’s 10 minutes late for her appointment. But the counselor has been waiting patiently. Behind a large and insanely cluttered desk, a tall leather chair spins around to reveal, Nathan Sparks. Brilliant and devilishly handsome, he is clad in his usual ensemble of gray and/or blue. He examines his latest patient with a warm smile.

“Good morning, Miss. Johnson? Katherine Smith?”  Katie nods, dropping her overloaded bag and slumping into the chair opposite him. “Yeah, sorry I’m late, my schedule is killing me. I have things due next week that I haven’t started, and, I’m not feeling good about finals.” Her fatigue turns to irritation. “I don’t think I even need to know all this stuff! I mean, what’s the point?”

“Well, that depends, Katie,” says the crazy progressive-minded miscreant. “Do you want the long answer or the short answer? The short answer is that you’re doing all this work to build character and discover healthy life skills in a diverse and proactive learning community.

By performing to your maximum capabilities, you can graduate and succeed in the work force, thereby fulfilling your hopes and dreams.”

Katie groans and rubs her aching forehead. “Geez, you sound like my parents. I want the long answer!”  “I thought so,” Nathan leans forward on the desk. “The long answer is, you live in a society that is based on the illusion of equal opportunity.

You see, there’s already a corporate upper class that holds most of the wealth and influence in this country, and they don’t like sharing. A lot of the good jobs are given out to those who know the right people, not necessarily the ones who work the hardest. But the people in charge still push the ‘hard work equals prosperity’ shtick because it sounds better, and they don’t want you to know what’s really going on.

“Universities make you do all this work with the idea that it will secure your future.

But in fact, the game is already rigged against you; and that goes double if you’re from a minority group. But the colleges operate at a distance from the ‘real world’ and make a ton of money off tuition, so they don’t see any reason to challenge the current system.”  Katie is surprised, but not quite shocked; she’s suspected most of these things were true for a long time. “But, that’s just messed up. If you’re right, doesn’t that mean we’re suffering through all of this for no reason?”

“No. You see, that’s the beauty of it,” Nathan brightens up. “As long as we combine our education here with an awareness of how the world really works, college is still useful. UWRF is especially well off because it’s small, community-oriented, relatively cheap and has some professors who really know the score.

Combine the old clichés of ‘book smarts’ and ‘street smarts,’ and you’ll stand a chance of finding a way around the system and maybe; dare I say it?, accomplishing your hopes and dreams.”

Katie thinks about it. Slowly, she begins to smile again for the first time in days. “I guess that makes sense. College isn’t that huge path to success that people make it out to be, but going to the right kind will still help us. Thanks a lot. You’re a pretty good counselor.”

Nathan shrugs. “Actually, I’m not a counselor. I just snuck into the guy’s office while he was on a coffee break. But I was glad to help. And by the way, you’re pretty hot.” He gives her a cheesy wink.

Katie rolls her eyes and strolls happily off to the library. She has work to do, just like us; only now, maybe we have a better reason to do it.