Alive On Campus

Shadows of The Past

I recently found this article long forgotten in a box in my basement. I present for your consideration, the last article written by Pete Shaw for the Clarkson Integrator as part of the Alive on Campus Series. The article originally appeared on Page 3 of April 13, 1987 edtion of the Integrator. I remeber the church bells and my favorite color is blue, and that does matter

Spiraling On Beyond College

Monday April 13, 1987 Integrator

Pete Shaw: Alive On Campus

Spiraling On Beyond College

I’d like to be able to tie all this together, but I can’t. The meaning is that there is no meaning. This is the last of my columns in the Integrator, so I would like to leave you with an observation, a riddle, and a warning.

An observation: College is a spiral. You go into college expecting to gain some kind of education. You keep on moving forward on what seems a level and straight path But the path takes one gigantic helical curve. All of a sudden you are exactly where you started, only on a different level. I am no different from the stupid wet-nosed frosh that wondered in Clarkson four years ago, and yet I am somehow more aware of my condition, and it is this awareness that separates me from that guy who entered the campus way back when.

The church bells across the street are ringing again. Three years ago I liked them. A year later they irritated me. Now I don’t even hear them. But will I remember them? The plusses, the minuses, they all add up to nothing. It’s like a big straight line. Now it’s graduation time. The line ends here. What is this thing I have gained? An education?

This is good, This is bad. This is right. This is wrong. I feel cheated. This education stuff was supposed to tell me, it was supposed to give me the answers. Now I’m more confused than ever. The lines that were drawn so clearly for me back in grade school are now blurred and distant, like I am looking at them through frosted glass.

A riddle is a question with no easy answer. Surely there must be some reason to all of this. I can still see I my mind’s eye a picture of Socrates, back in Greece. Someone asks him, “But Socrates, of what profit is knowledge?” Socrates gets pissed. He throws a coin at the guy, saying “there’s your profit!” My math teacher told me that story. I hate to say this but I don’t think this allegory means anything. But it sounds so deep, I’ll never forget it. I don’t remember anything he taught, the same way I couldn’t solve a differential equation now if you paid me, but I remember the story. So I’m asking again, where’s the profit?

I’ve taken courses in over a dozen schools of thought, accounting to sociology. I still don’t see anything that ties this together. Maybe I’m missing something What is this animal, an education? It roams in schools, colleges, universities, in bars, bus stops and highways, in travel, in life. Rarely seen but much sought after like the Adirondack barking spiders they warn you about up here. I have an education, or at least I paid for one, so what is it that I have?

And last, I have a warning. An education is something that is claimed to be measured by a multitude of entrance exams. From high school you have the SAT. For the next step to graduate school you get many exams. LSAT’s, GMAT’s, GRE’s for many different majors, and the list goes on. Do these things measure an education? Am I going to be able to say to anyone that all I got for some fifty thousand dollars is a 590 on some test? Or is there more? Does someone with 2.0 learn half as much as someone with a 4.0? I refute the relation of an education with a number. Allow me to reintroduce myself. I am 33232, and my qualifications include a 2.5 and a 590. My favorite color is blue, but I guess that doesn’t matter.

But you go to school and you take your classes and you do your homework. After you do a lot of it, you get better at it. If you are really dedicated then you can take the time and make the grade. I don’t want to sound like a total anarchist, so let me take the time to applaud the virtues of solid consistent good grades. It shows character. It shows intelligence. It shows determination. But you have to want the good grades. They have to be important to you, and you really should enjoy the stuff that you are doing. You can pass everything if you take the time, if it’s important for you to pass. Other than that, you, like everyone else, are going to get exactly what you are willing to work for to achieve. You might get less, and indeed that is what could happen, life being aggravatingly unfair and all that. So be careful. Ultimately, you set your own upper limit. My warning is this: If you spend a lot of time working on something that you don’t really want, you might ultimately get it. You might lose sight of something really more important. Beware the road-signs, they do not explain the destinations; beware of the road-maps that only show the route; and most of all beware the advice of others, because they might not have your interests at heart.