Find your own life, in spite of the University

A long time ago I thought I knew what I wanted. I thought I wanted to cure the world of all its ills — cleanse the streets of criminals, child molesters and rapists. But like all intentions, those of childhood go the same way as dreams of being a prima ballerina or a princess.
A little more realistic in my aspirations now, I only hope to be happy with what I choose to do with my life. While I don’t know what that is, the pressure of having to make a choice puts enormous strain on a person. Like the catch phrase “What’s your sign?” at a singles bar, the only question people here seem able to ask is, “What’s your major?” If it isn’t impressive enough, like biomedical engineering with an emphasis on laser surgery, then the next question is always, “What are you going to do with a degree in that?”
Or if, heaven forbid, you say that you’re a liberal arts major, the look that follows that answer is enough to make a person feel 10 inches tall. Why do you have to know what you want to do with the rest of your life in the first semester of college?
While colleges within the University preach “no pressure,” everyone from your peers to your parents are expecting immediate goals and lifelong decisions. Is it fair to assume that an 18-year-old will know what his or her passion is within the first six weeks of school? This insidious pressure starts at an early age and keeps growing stronger as the years progress from childhood to high school to pre-college. From reports on “What I want to be when I grow up” to “My life goals,” the education system enforces strong convictions and necessitates decisions with special programs and seminars geared toward people who “know” what they want to be.
Sadly, I am one of the lost souls who wishes to major in something not as progressive as information technology or medical ethics in children’s hospitals. I feel no urge for a life of unrelenting boredom and riches.
Someone once asked me if I would rather be poor and satisfied with my life, or rich and dissatisfied. For me, there was no contest. I simply don’t see the harm in making a mediocre living while doing something that I love.
A girl on my floor told me that she wants to be a librarian, and my first instinct was to laugh. I couldn’t think of any reason why anyone would want to be a librarian, let alone go through four years of school to average $20,000 a year. Now I realize that I was wrong. Here I sit in a calculus class that will be the basis for my college career for many years to come, and I suffer from such extreme boredom that I want to nod off. She, on the other hand, is taking classes that interest her and will make a direct impact on her life. Who is the smarter person?
So I change my major to something that makes me more fulfilled as a person but less as a person in the denominative sense. So what? Half the people at this school go around spouting off double, triple and even quadruple majors just to impress themselves with their own intelligence. I bet that everyone reading this column has seen some guy or girl standing in the middle of a group of people expounding on all the important research that they’re doing with some noteworthy professor. Those experiments most likely deal with cleaning and preparing petri dishes, but hey, to each his own, right?
Everyone has to give kudos to the people who are coming back to school as mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. Who better to prove that goals change and life weaves strange paths around good intentions and honorable convictions?
Among the most noteworthy people I have met are some of the older students who aren’t even enrolled in the University. They are auditing classes simply for a broader understanding of the world. As I sit in calc and think, “What am I ever going to use this for?” there are the older students sitting at attention and industriously taking notes. Imagine taking a class called Calculus for Biology and Medicine just for a broader understanding of the mystical world of math?
So what do these four, or most likely five, years mean to you? Do they mean a non-stop party, an orgy, a lifelong dream fulfilled or just a chance? For me, it’s the latter. The chance just to be here and experience all the people and to take classes like Underwater Basket Weaving is enough. While I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, I can only hope that I never stop growing and experiencing all that life has to offer.
As we navigate our way through life, we might make some wrong steps. I can only say beware of sand traps and never get bogged down in what could have been.
I am forever thankful to my roommate who helped me realize that lofty titles and billions in cash aren’t everything. She wants to be a record store owner. Simple enough, but maybe she will work harder and longer than anyone else because her dream doesn’t rely on others opinions and approval.
Even for a lowly conservation biology major like me, there is still hope. Hope that tomorrow I will have some direction but also the fear that it will take me to a place I don’t want to be. So maybe for now, I’ll wander, take in some sights, and see where it goes from there. Tomorrow is another day.

Dana Ruggiero’s column appears every other Tuesday. She welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]