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School's out forever
August 23, 2010 - Scott Muska
When I woke up this morning and realized it was Penn State's first day of fall semester classes, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia for my recently concluded days as a college boy.
The same thing happened last Thursday, when I was covering Penn State Altoona's move-in day. When I saw all those freshmen scrambling all over campus, exuding a palpable excitement at the prospect of starting a brand new phase of their lives, I had a couple flashbacks -- not unlike a character in Lost -- to my first days at Penn State Behrend, in Erie. It's tough to believe that was only four years ago. Now I'm an old man. A couple weekends ago my brother pointed out some gray spots in my facial stubble (and that was harsh news, considering I'm going gray before I can even grow a respectable beard).
In both instances, I felt something I guess I have to describe as envy, but only fleetingly. This is because I'm going to miss college, but I don't really have any qualms with being done with it and getting on with the rest of my life, which I know is a sentiment many of the friends I graduated with in May don't share. All I had to do was sign on to Facebook this morning and see everyone with a "real world" job expressing their desire to be back at University Park for what we like to call a "super senior year."
Don't get me wrong, I loved college as much as movie character Van Wilder and inadequate rapper Asher Roth -- the guy responsible for a terrible song called "I Love College" that somehow reached popularity a couple years ago. If you ask me to name the 10 greatest times of my life, I'd say half of them have taken place in the past four years. The kind of lifestyle I lived in college is one I will probably never be able to replicate, and my body is likely thankful for that. (It turns out a steady diet of Domino's pasta bread bowls, Kung Pao chicken and Natural Light combined with an almost complete absence of exercise is not good for mortal longevity.) I'll never be able to spend as much time with my friends as I did through the past four years, either. I miss them already, since we've spread out all over the country, and that was the worst part for me about college coming to an end. I don't cry myself to sleep (that often) or anything, but it's still saddening sometimes.
That doesn't mean I wanted to remain a college student my entire life, though, which I guess is why I stayed the course and got out of there in the requisite four year time frame. Toward the end of my college career, I was actually getting frustrated with the classes I had to complete to earn my degree (and believe me, I'm not trying to indirectly say that I'm smart, because that's certainly not the case). I felt like I was just spinning my wheels when I could be out in the world doing something, like writing about education in Blair County, for example. When I took my last final in the beginning of May, I was genuinely happy I was done with school and could soon begin my job. (When I finished this test I took it to the front of the room, gave it to the teacher's assistant, drop-kicked my pen in the direction of the garbage can and pretty much sprinted out the classroom door. I take the old "no more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks" nursery rhyme very seriously, and I knew I had to be emphatic about it the last time I got to celebrate the sentiment.)
When I look at it from a monetary standpoint, I'm thrilled to be done with college. That's something kids don't seem to talk so much about. I'm always going to be thankful for the education I received from Penn State, because I wouldn't be in the position I am right now without it, but I'm glad I don't have to pay tuition anymore. It's hard to describe the amazing feeling of getting paid to do what you love after having to pay an exorbitant amount of money to become qualified to do so.
As I mentioned before, I liked a lot of things about college, and they made me happy at the time. If I stayed in college for another four years, though, the significance of the things I could do while I was a student would wane and then eventually disappear. College life, like so many other things, has a diminishing margin of appreciation. The more time you spend there, the less amazing it is to you. (Think of it as if you were a young child who got to go to Chuck E. Cheese once every few months. You'd appreciate it more than if you went every weekend.) People mature, and as that happens different things make them happy. It's a bit odd right now, to be stuck in kind of a transitional period where a cheap beer special makes me happy, but so does the increasing ability to adequately match my shirt and tie when I'm dressing for work. Sometimes I get excited to go out with my friends, but I've found recently I get almost as excited for the Sunday night programming on HBO and AMC while I gear up for another work week. I'm adjusting, and enjoying doing so.
I think the thing people tend to forget, especially immediately after graduating from college, is that so much of what you experience there are things you get to take with you. I'm never going to forget lots of the information I studied in college, and I'm never going to be without the amazing friends I was fortunate enough to make there. This is especially true these days, with Facebook, Skype and everything else that's available. I mean, I have trouble not staying in touch with people I'm trying to forget about, so I'm not worried about staying close with my friends.
I'm sure a time will come years down the road, when I'm married and have children -- if I'm fortunate enough for either of those to happen -- when I'll think about how I would love to just go back and live like a college kid again. I hope if that happens I'll remember how I was looking forward to life beyond college around the time I wrote this, and that although the memories from that time will always be important for me, my happiness has evolved and belongs elsewhere.
And if that doesn't dissuade me, I'll just drink a Natural Light. Then I definitely won't want to go back.