Meaningful Distinction:

Patrick S. Lasswell Look outward for something to accomplish, not inward for something to despise.
pslblog at gmail dot com
Sunday, September 14, 2003
A Word to the Incoming Freshman Class

One of the benefits of being a veteran, or just old, is that you can gain a realistic appreciation of the value of youth. Young people usually have good knees and can be easily inspired to work pretty hard for short periods. They also usually have extremely limited notions of how things function and often contribute meaningless observations to serious conversations. I know that was true of me when I was younger…like last year.

I just came back from a party where there were a several kids heading to college soon, and I had the chance to reflect on the things I wanted them to know. I didn't get the chance to tell them because both my brothers in law were there, and they are much cooler than I am. It doesn't bother me much though; I've made more money than both of them for the last five years. I know that simple financial standing is not the great determinant of my success as a person. On the other hand, the ability to pay the rent and afford health care is nothing to sneeze at, either.

If there was one requirement I would impose on every college student it would be that they all get at least one marketable job skill for every year they go to school. I don’t think this would destroy education in the United States if this was to happen; although I am rather less certain that the current culture of academia would survive. This would probably be a good thing, on the whole. A culture of academia that does not regularly compete with valuable alternate choices is in extreme danger of letting itself become valueless. The students with a viable choice can commit to serious study or creating a different life for themselves.

Some of the best people I know graduated when they were ready to commit to academics instead of just chasing paper. Some of the least interesting people I know got their degree and are deeply dissatisfied with the choices handed to them by self-serving faculty advisors. If you are going to college, take several courses every year that you can turn into a living. I truly wish I had taken at least one elective at the business school. I did however, start my education at the School of Engineering, so I have never had too much difficulty finding work.

One last thing: If you have a trust fund, the same thing goes triple for you. Most of the people I know who have an assured income without having ever worked for it really become pointless pains in the ass. If you want to avoid hating yourself for the rest of your life, make certain you are capable of accomplishing things on your own. It will provide endless snide amusement for your peers early on, but you will have the last laugh when they are on their third divorce and seriously contemplating suicide. Joining the military and having your ass kicked on a regular basis mentally, emotionally, and physically is probably a great idea if you have the stones to do it seriously. If your identity is your ancestor's ability to accumulate wealth, you are in extreme danger of killing yourself to prove that you are capable of doing something on your own. One of the great things about the military is that they really don't care where you came from or what you were. The military wants you to succeed and be of value to the people around you. The University wants you to prove your value by sponsoring an endowment.
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