School daze -- memories of those glorious four years

This column is from The Gazette. It's worth noting that my dear friend Karen Schafer is the reason I was able to write these columns and get them published. The reason I continue to write, largely, is her encouragement ( version is here).

June 30, 2004

It's nearly July and many 18-year-olds are preparing for their life-after-high school. Some will go into the military; others to college and many will try to get a job (good luck on that one). Each has its benefits and drawbacks.

Certainly, joining the military can give you a great sense of pride in serving your county. Also, you are required to shoot guns which many people enjoy, and you get a sweet free haircut and uniform. However, there is also the distant and real possibility that you will be sent to a foreign land and die.

Getting a job will give you money, a sense of pride and a quick introduction to the real world. You may get married. You get to contribute to the American economy -- for whatever that's worth. You will get a quick introduction to the real world (actual introduction "Hello, I'm the real world. It's no fun at all.").

At my high school, doing anything but going to a four-year university was frowned upon; nearly 98 percent of my graduating class went on to college.

For me, I found college was the best route. I stayed in the Midwest, going on the University of Missouri (MU).

College was one of my most exciting, rewarding and bizarre experiences. The people you meet will be worth it and your schedule will never be the same. In fact, I think college is worth the cost for anyone.

For one thing, college will be the best schedule you will ever keep. A full-time student at the average university will take 12 to 18 credit hours per semester. That means your class time will be somewhere around 20 hours per week, tops.

Considering you go to high school 35 hours a week (and will work 40 or more hours a week when you work), college gives you lots of free time. I didn't have a class start before 11 a.m. or end after 3 p.m. during my senior year of college. To put it in perspective, I currently leave my house at 9 a.m. and get home at 6:30 p.m. for my job. Much of this has to do with Beltway traffic, of course.

In college, you can organize a barbeque within a day. Today, with all my friends scattered around the country, if I wanted to have a barbeque, I'd have to call 10 people, plan for five and send out formal invitations weeks in advance. I spent more time playing lawn baseball and video games than I did studying journalism.

More importantly, college brings you together with people you would probably never meet. Never in your life will you have a more fun and more cohesive group than a group of freshman in a dorm. Everyone is in the same boat: away from home, not a lot of friends, and just trying to find your way. Certainly, the working world isn't like this. Where college is like summer camp with round-the-clock partying, the working world is like high school without the easy classes.

The other people, those you don't get along with as well, are the best people in college. Certainly, being a suburban Chicago kid, I didn't have much experience with rural Missouri kids, but met many of them at college. For some, I was the first Jewish person any of them had ever met; many expected me to be a combination of Woody Allen and Albert Einstein.

They were very disappointed to realize that I am nothing like either.

My sophomore roommate was the exact opposite of me. While I was a 20-year-old suburban Chicago vegetarian kid, Seth was a slightly anti-Semitic (he would harass his friend on the phone by saying "No, YOU'RE Jewish!"), hunting, truck-driving guy from Cuba, a small town in south central Missouri. Not only did he look like an awkward 15-year-old (he was all of 5-foot-5, 120 pounds, with serious acne), he changed his clothes in the closet. I don't mean he changed his clothes in a walk-in closet; he changed his clothes in the tiny dorm closets. While I never asked him about this, he remains one of the most bizarre people I've ever met.

Also, I took a blow off elective my sophomore year with Kareem Rush, MU's All-American basketball player. Basketball players at large state schools tend to get everything they want and Rush was in class less than my friend who dropped it midway through the semester. Now, he's on the Los Angeles Lakers and makes more money in one year than I make in five.

And while Seth and Kareem were interesting characters, you can always meet very rewarding people. I met my wonderful girlfriend Allison at school and I probably would never have met anyone from southern Illinois, no less an amazing woman like her. For that, college was worth it for me.