A small circle of orthodontically superior young men and women, no two of whom are the same ethnicity, make doe-eyed oh-my-Jesus-I-am-so-pleasantly-overwhelmed-with-intellectual-stimulation-right-now faces at each other. Either they’re sprawled on an environmentally impossible emerald sea of grass, or they’re huddled around a gleaming mahogany table surrounded by gleaming mahogany bookshelves, or they’re arranged strategically on the steps of some beautifully architectured building in a manner that allows for the absolute maximum amount of architectural exposure.
This, my friends, is the filter Instagram never told you about.
(But don’t take them up on it. And if you do, this information came from an unknown source somewhere off the eastern coast of Iceland.)
This secret filter is called the Stockphoto filter, and the only people who have access to it are the university employees who are hired to schlup together pretty pictures for brochures, websites, and those pain-in-the-ass Pandora ads that won’t let you click Skip. I suppose these employees have a proper name that probably includes the word “marketing” or the phrase “graphic design.” Sorry if I’ve offended anyone. But my point is, you’ll never see a brochure, website, or pain-in-the-ass Pandora ad without this secret Stockphoto filter.
I mean, that’s fine. No hate. But now that I’m a real life college student, I get to tell you what some of the #nofilter stuff actually looks like:
- A small girl who has been almost fully engulfed by a Snuggie stares mindlessly through her laptop screen. A single tear forms in her left eye.
- A boy in a hobo outfit, holding a backpack in one hand and a debit card in the other, stands in front of a refrigerator shelf labeled “Starbucks coffee.” The shelf is empty. There is tragedy written across his face.
- A bespectacled girl sits in the dining hall, facing a sheet of practice problems. Her right hand forms a claw around a green mechanical pencil. Her left hand grips a spoon filled with milk and soggy Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
- Actually, this is not a photograph.
- Actually, she has been petrified in this position for the past fifteen minutes.
- What the HELL is a triple integral?
Welcome to Finals Week, folks.
Dilute this phenomenon over ten weeks, sprinkle it with frat parties and sporadic stress-eating outings, and you get the rest of the school year. Not necessarily apocalyptic, but mildly crazed nonetheless. No matter what ungodly time of day it is, there’s always someone on campus wringing his/her brain out into an empty coffee cup. Jainaha and Anastasiya take two-hour shifts sleeping and studying from 11 PM to 7 AM. Alex can’t stomach food 80% of the time because his intestines are so packed with compsci homework. Neil and John have made it Facebook Official: in an emotional farewell Life Event, they’ve announced that they’re packing up their possessions and emigrating three blocks north to 1100 E 57th Street (i.e., The Regenstein Library). Welcome to college, folks. A kingdom of emerald grass, gleaming mahogany libraries, and architecturally superior buildings, ruled over by this Machiavelli-esque dude called The Notorious 4.0.
The Notorious 4.0 has an equally Machiavelli-esque brother who fills the role of co-ruler. The brother is this tall, dark, mysterious guy in shades and a business suit. He probably auditioned for the role of Christian Grey in Fifty Shades but got beat out by the other tall, dark, mysterious guy in shades and a business suit, and is now angry and bitter as a result. His name is Career Advancement Bro.
You know, I had plans for the summer after first year. I was going to go home, purchase three month’s worth of bubble bath ingredients, and become a bubble bath connoisseur. I’d do some writing, maybe finish my novel. Get a job at the local Ben & Jerry’s (33% for work experience, 34% for free ice cream, and 33% because The National Zoo refuses to hire undergrads).
At least, these were my plans until I went to college and fell under the shadow of Career Advancement Bro’s I-work-out-eight-days-a-week-and-sweat-protein-shakes bulk.
Two of my friends have paid internships. Any remaining friends (you should safely assume I have more than two friends) are panicking over attaining said paid internships. Guys, these are first years who have developed the I-foresee-a-future-living-in-a-dinky-cardboard-box mindset. I MUST GET AN INTERNSHIP, they whisper furiously as they scroll through pages upon pages of prestigious companies. I MUST NOT BE HOMELESS, they whisper furiously as they hammer out emails and cover letters and resumes. I MUST BE SUCCESSFUL IN LIFE, they whisper furiously as they calculate the lowest score needed on the multivariable calculus final to achieve a 4.0, so that they can type “4.0” onto their resumes, so that they can get into grad school, so that they can get a job at some firm, so that they can climb the corporate ladder to financial and worldly success, so that they can slave away for a decade or two and make some babies and send them off to some Stockphotofiltered universities, so that they can retire early with a bucketload of moolah and move to Switzerland and farm Swiss sheep or something.
Right. So no bubble bath apprenticeship.
To summarize: along with a healthy dose of raging hormones, high-school-drama-induced PTSD, and illicit drugs, The Notorious 4.0 and Career Advancement Bro make sure the collegiate kingdom maintains the high-pressure, caffeine-fueled, sleep-deprived atmosphere that makes the Stockphoto filter so necessary.
When I first started college, I saw it as this long, winding yellow brick road to my future self. Note how I said “to my future self” instead of “to my future.” To me, the purpose of the collegiate yellow brick road was to (a) figure out who I was and who I wanted to be, and (b) learn how to take care of myself so I wouldn’t starve to death in my own apartment and get eaten by my household pets (i.e., a half dozen cats, or a carnivorous rabbit, or a very large goldfish).
Instead, I’ve found myself skipping yoga to cram for an econ test, or pushing myself so hard on papers that I have to spend Ramen money on eye drops from CVS. Recently, my biggest life concern has been stocking up on jobs and activities that will revive my barely breathing, doggy paddling resume. I haven’t put more than ten minutes into my novel since summer vacation ended.
Last week I suddenly reflected upon my actions and went, Wait.
OH MY LORD JESUS, I’VE BECOME AN ACADEMIC MONSTER.
See, High School Angela scorned people like College Angela. I rolled my eyes and flipped my hair at people who worried about their grades or did things with the primary goal of slapping them onto their college apps. I’ve always been a supreme believer in the business of filling your life with only the things that you really, truly, 110%, with-all-your-lil-heart want to do. So back in high school, as my friends gradually drove themselves to insanity over schoolwork, I spent my days writing, hanging out with my family, climbing trees, and walking my rabbit (yes, I walked my rabbit). I barely ever stayed up doing homework; I’d just BS it on the car or the bus, despite attending one of the most academically intense high schools in the nation. Essentially, I floated through high school on a fluffy pink cloud. When I look back on those four years, I smile at all the memories I made. I didn’t pull a single all-nighter. I never stressed over grades. If anything, I’d pretend to be stressed over grades, just so I could fit in.
And here’s the thing: I still got into UChicago.
Now, I can’t help but think to myself: does college work the same way? Is it really necessary to subscribe to The Notorious 4.0’s & Career Advancement Bro’s iron fists? What if I don’t subscribe, and care less about my grades, and take a step back from my resume? Will I still get a job when I graduate? Will I still be okay?
I’m asking these questions because I do not know the answers. College might be different from high school. Maybe we need the grind to grow.
Or maybe we don’t? Or at least, maybe we don’t need this much of a grind?
I DON’T KNOW.
Either way, it feels like college isn’t easing us into adulthood, but yanking us out of youth with a noose around our necks . . . with the help of coffee, all-nighters, and other horrors that (for whatever reason) are actually glorified on campus. Instead of learning to take care of ourselves, we’re destroying ourselves for a future that counts on happy, healthy brains and bodies to exist.
Collegiate Yellow Brick Road Recap
Expectation: I will figure out who I am and who I want to be.
What’s Actually Been Happening: I got so distracted by the mating call of good grades and perfect resumes that I practically forgot about my novel.
Summary: I forgot who I was, and subconsciously decided that I wanted to be a career-chasing robot.
Expectation: I will learn to take care of myself.
What’s Actually Been Happening: I discovered coffee. I ate too much, then not at all. I finished an entire box of Emergen-C. My friends no longer remember what proper sleeping or dietary habits are. Dayquils are downed. Refrigerator shelves of Starbucks coffee are empty. People cry. People faint.
Summary: Evidently, we have unlearned how to take care of ourselves.
But there’s an addendum: I may be exaggerating a bit. The Stockphoto filter’s not exactly a complete lie. Just a couple hours ago, my four best friends and I were hanging out in the biggest, sunniest dorm room in our big, sunny dorm building. Arpan and I tossed a baseball back and forth as old-school Maroon Five crooned from classy HQ speakers. Neil lounged on a rocking chair as sunlight cascaded through the ten-foot windows, making him look like an unangelic angel. John waved his arms around and loudly said something that made Alex, who was lying on the ground literally ROFL. We were a scene straight out of a college brochure, no filter needed.
I’ll jog to the lake with Andrew, attend a dance lecture with Gabe, or hit up the gym and grab a healthy dinner with Alexis. I’ll be excited to go to class. I’ll learn something new, try something different, or smile stupidly to myself as I walk through the quad simply because I am SO DAMN IN LOVE with my school. Right now I am the happiest I have ever been. [*Knocks aggressively on wood.*]
Upperclassmen assure me it’s A-OK to chill the summer after first year. Maybe get a part-time job at my favorite coffee shop, fly to Europe and join a traveling circus, or do literally anything cool that doesn’t involve dingling the bingle of Career Advancement Bro. I have college brochure moments and I’m surrounded by a campus and friends I love to the stars and back. Admittedly, the Stockphoto filter, actually can be true to life at times. But still, when everyone around me is salivating over internships, booking tickets for a community service trip across the globe, or talking nonstop about job recruitment for the winter of our third year, it’s a little hard to listen to my inner voice of reason. The wave of craziness will strike, and I’ll always feel some part of me being tugged gently back into the sea of stress by The Notorious 4.0 and Career Advancement Bro .
I’m still trying to find the balance between making the most out of my education and making too much out of my education. The problem right now, I think, is that so many of us are making too much out of our educations.
I’m still trying to find my way back to that grab-life-by-the-handlebars self. The girl who didn’t check her GPA until college app season. The girl who’d make a paper crane for Mother’s Day instead of studying for a final exam.
The girl I can see flashes of when I’m in the middle of a college-brochure-worthy scene, so that I know for sure she still exists.
I’m still trying to find my way back to the yellow brick road.