Peterson: New students should make their own adventures


Members of the largest freshman class in the history of Iowa State fill the seats of Hilton Coliseum on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011 during the Destination Iowa State Kick-off event. DIS is a three-day event for freshmen and transfer students to get to know campus before they begin classes.

Ryan Peterson

Why did you come to college? It’s an essential question, one that I hope you asked yourself several times before you made your decision to come to Iowa. According to the United States Department of Labor, 68 percent of high school graduates continue their education in college; it’s not for everyone, but more and more students are pursuing higher education. In the face of these numbers, I say statistics be damned; you cannot quantify the quality of education.

With the continuing rise in college attendance, I have to wonder, why do the majority of students actually come to college? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate for higher education, but I get the impression that’s not what we’re pursuing. Money and business have become the primary motivation for colleges, and as such they desperately try to cram as many students into campus as possible, regardless of class size or quality. Sadly this means that standards and expectations have to go down while advertisements and images go up.

Iowa State’s commercials are cleverly done to make college look like an extended summer camp, a place where fun is found. Between orientations, advisers, Destination Iowa State and other programs, they’re succeeding. Our first-year students are marked by parents, T-shirts, cheap orientation bags and leaders to guide them between activities. Between classes, you’ll find eager aides passing out candy to students who walk by.

The transition from high school to college can be a challenge, but that’s the point. We seem to want to push the real world back, somewhere beyond the borders of college. The purpose of the baccalaureate was to commemorate you as an adult and prepare you for the real world. Any attempt to prolong the adolescent years or derive a bit more security and protecting is a poor reason to enter into college, and it’s a poor base to advertise for a college. Even upperclassmen want TAs and professors to hold their hands, advisers to organize their schedule and Mom and Dad to call the school if there is a problem. I feel bad for my adviser; he continually struggles with the high school drama that students bring to him. Like it or not, we face the real world at 18. It can scare the hell out of the best of us, it’s messy, chaotic and mature, but it can be a blast if you just dive in.

Of course, no summer camp experience would be complete without entertainment, and Iowa State makes sure you’re well aware of all the fun activities that they offer. ISU football games can provide a rich experience of new friends and excitement, but if that’s why you came here then you might want to reconsider. That goes double for athletes here for athletic careers, expecting professional contracts after their degrees. The pregame parties and tailgating rituals can be a fun break, an opportunity to get out and away from classes and professors; in fact, games of any athletic variety are a wonderful accent, but they aren’t the keystone to college. None of them are worth the sacrificing four years of life, thousands of dollars of debt, thousands of brain cells drowned in cheap beer and the loss of a quality education that college can provide.

Then there’s the Greek community, which seems to be less of an actual community and more of a social herd. I know many wonderful members of the Greek community who’ve made it into a wonderful thing, but they are the exception to the rule. If you must institutionalize friendship, you might have fewer friends than you think. These activities should help show you new ideas, compel you to new things and help you identify yourself.

You cannot identify who you are through two or three Greek symbols or any institution for that matter. Rushing, Greek Week and fraternity parties can all be fun, but keep asking yourself what you are gaining as a person. If you can find real benefit, like many of my friends have, then you found something worth keeping, but if it’s drama superficiality you might want to change. The new “college experience” that students like to focus on tends to be parties, bars, games and socializing, but where is the college in all that new college experience?

It’s not enough that students want to come to school here; more students need to get in and stay in. This is especially true with the “new image,” superseding the paradigm of academic excellence and challenging curriculum. Fewer exams on Fridays (students like to get an early start on the weekend), no tests on Mondays (it was, after all, a long weekend, and let’s be honest, we’re a bit hungover). Instead, professors and advisers are expected to hold students hands and walk them through class, as though failure was, literally, not an option.

Classes will soon be in need of stadium seating to pack all the students in. With the commoditization of education, we could even consider calling the new stadiums Boeing Engineering, Coke Hall and John Deer Auditorium; why not make an extra buck and spare the construction costs? Personally, as long as there are still professors I’m grateful, otherwise the departments will have to settle for yet another teaching assistant.

It’s more noble to go to school for a brighter future. I know a fair number of students who feel compelled to come to college; it’s a simple necessity to get a job. Sadly, as academics decline, your degree means less and that means more school is needed. Where high school was once sufficient, we seem to have knocked our entire system down one level. Education shouldn’t just be economics and jobs; it should be defining who you are. It’s the freedom to apply you in so many different fields, not just engineering or agriculture, but humanities, sciences and your position in your community. It’s about the active participation in your own creation.

Each day, ask yourself what you’re doing here; are you making the most of your education? It’s so easy to get lethargic and settle into a habit or to give up and go out to your desires. It’s so much harder to strictly question yourself and keep pushing for the best. But it’s so much more rewarding.