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David Bouchier: A Few Well Chosen Words

David Bouchier: Freshmen Envy

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Rick Bowmer
/
AP

This past weekend thousands of teenagers left home for the first time to live in college and university dorms. It must be a moment of high drama, for them, and for their parents.

Fall semester at the State University of New York and at Sacred Heart University begins Monday. All weekend the car parks have been full of cars and SUVs in line, waiting their turn to get to the dorms and unload. Many of these vehicles are bigger than the average dorm room and packed to the roof racks with stuff. You wonder how they get it all in without violating some fundamental law of space and time.

Today’s dorm room has come a long way from is origins as a monk’s cell for private study and worship. It has been reported that entering freshmen now spend up to $2,000 on decoration, furniture and technical stuff. From a retail point of view this means $34 billion in the cash registers, half of which is accounted for by electronics: iPads, smart phones, calculators, TVs, and all the other gadgets that have become essential to the learning process. It’s a long way from “back to school” with a box of pencils, a ruler, and a notebook.

I can’t help envying these eager freshmen, or freshpersons, as they start this new phase of their lives. This is where it really begins – the first brush with adulthood, and responsibility, and choice. Although some must still live with their parents – and what a disappointment that must be – young people can and will make their own mistakes – including mistakes that their parents never even thought of. I envy them (the students, not the parents) because I missed the authentic college experience myself. I was a late starter. By the time I went to college I was married, and working full time, which prevented me from doing 99 percent of the interesting things that regular students do in and out of their dorms.

Or at least I imagine they do: how would I know? I have read a few campus books, including Tom Wolfe’s mildly scandalous novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, and Rules of Attraction by Brett Easton Ellis, hoping to get an insight into today’s college experience. But I thought them rather tame, no more than you would expect when you allow hundreds of rampant teenagers to live in close proximity, in a situation where all the old-fashioned social rules have been cancelled.

I’m especially sorry to have missed the experience because my generation, at least the men, had a different welcome into the adult world. At eighteen, because of the draft, we found ourselves in barracks rather than in college dorms, with drill sergeants for company instead of attractive young coeds, with rigid rules governing every detail of our lives, including how to tie our bootlaces, and with guns to play with instead of computers and stereo systems. If I had my life to live over again, I know which teenage experience I’d choose!

Nothing I learned in the military has been of the slightest use to me in adult life. By contrast, the freshmen moving into their college lives this week will learn all sorts of things that were never on the military curriculum, and they will have so much fun doing it. Good luck to them all.

Copyright: David Bouchier