Friday, April 20, 2018

Does College Really Matter?

Once you graduate from college, it becomes less and less relevant as you age, particularly in today's society.

I was at the local bar happy hour by the beach.  The locals go there because the drinks and appetizers are cheap, and it is a fun way to catch up with what is going on and what your friends are doing.  I was wearing an old "Syracuse" zip-up hoodie, and I guess it was during March Madness or something, and someone gave me a hard time about it - as if I was a Syracuse fan, and not someone who bought a sweatshirt 20 years ago when visiting there.

I ran into some others who were also alumni - from decades earlier than me (my college career spanned 1978 to 1992 - 14 years) and they wanted to know if I knew so-and-so on a college campus of 26,000 undergraduate students, from a decade before I was born.   No, I didn't know old Fred.  Sorry.

What was interesting to me, though, was how the person I talked to really identified themselves by the college they went to 60 years ago.   It seemed odd to me, as college for me was an experience that spanned more than a decade, but I don't think it defined my life.  I literally can't remember the names of anyone I went to school with, other than one or two people, perhaps.   I was too busy studying to get too involved in socializing.

Others here on the island fly their college flag in front of their house, and have a college sticker on their car.  They have made an identity for themselves based on what school they went to.  And I guess some folks need that - some pigeon-hole to put themselves into, as left to their own devices, they cannot figure out their own identity.  So they latch onto college as a means of drowning out the deafening silence in their lives.

College - that was 30 years ago.   So why would it be important to me now?  More of my existence on this planet has been post-college than pre-college.  I have learned so much more since then - my neural network has been programmed again and again by experiences that dwarf what I learned in school.  And what I learned in school wasn't facts and figures, but ways of thinking - and maybe that has stuck with me more than anything.

But the funny thing is, once you leave college, it becomes less and less important in your life.   In your career, you job experiences trump college experiences, which is why recent college grads with no work experience have a hard time finding that first job.  Once you have that first job, that job is the key to your resume, and college is a distant second.   Ten years go by, and you find that your "Education" part of your resume is more and more abbreviated.   You list only the school you went to, year you graduated, and what degree you got.   No one cares if you were in honor society or on the dean's list when you are 40 or 50 years old.   They care about how much money you can make for their company, and why you left your last job.   Yea, you should have the credentials and all, but beyond that, who cares?   Performance trumps Alma Mater every time.

Sure, when you are young, and your resume is pretty thin in the work department, your college education is all you have to tout on your resume.   So all that shit about honors and whatnot makes sense - you have to show you were able to buckle down and work.   But a few years out, putting that stuff on your resume is about as embarrassing as saying you were an Eagle Scout.

Which brings us to High School.   When you are young, you are told that high school is important, and that any transgressions will go on your "permanent record".   That is, of course, bullshit.   Good SAT scores and reasonable grades will get you into most colleges (which are more worried about your ability to pay than anything else).   You might list your high school degree and honors and whatnot on your resume when you are in your teens, and maybe even when you graduate from college.  But beyond that, it is just embarrassing.  Yea, you went to high school.  We get that - the fact you have a college degree sort of gives that away.   No, we don't give a rat's ass about your 10th grade science project getting "honorable mention" at the State Fair or whatever.   It just is irrelevant.

And so is college, once you are 10-20 years out.   No one really gives a rat's ass, and the college you went to back then is totally different than the college that exists today - all the professors who taught you are retired or dead.   It is a different place - something you realize when you go back 20 years later and come away with nothing more than a sweatshirt hoodie.

It is funny, but the folks at Syracuse used to call me and ask for money.   And they still send me an alumni magazine now and then.   I glance at it and toss it away.  It really isn't relevant to my life now.  It was just a place I once was, getting a credential I needed - and paid dearly for.  I had some fun, made some friends, but we've all moved on with life, and today, we are different people with little in common, other than a shared experience from decades past.

Others try to find meaning in all of that.  Not me.   My Dad, when my Mother died, went out of his way to look up all his "college buddies" from 1946 at MIT (he transferred to the management school when he flunked thermodynamics.  I simply took it three times until I passed it with an "A").   He traveled cross-country, sleeping on the couches in the houses of his old college "buddies" - their wives no doubt whispering in the next room, "Who is he, again?  And when is he going to leave?"

I think his experience was like the college visit scene from About Schmidt - where Schmidt goes back to the University of Nebraska, and bores some young college kids at his frat about his work as an Insurance actuary.   It is really irrelevant to them, and college at this point was irrelevant to him.   It's like the scene where he goes back to his childhood home and finds a tire store.

And yes, we've gone back to our childhood homes before and laughed about that scene - expecting to find a tire store, but instead finding only a house without a lot of emotional impact or in fact, any sort of closure or whatever.  There is little profit in the past, other than to learn from it.

And the same is true of college.  Get your degree and get out.  Just as High School is not an end in and of itself, but a means to an end - something those stupid kids who shot up Columbine High School simply didn't get.   Don't like High School?  Most people don't.   Graduate and leave.   Most people do!

And while college is generally a better experience than High School, obsessing about it decades later is, to me, kind of sad.