The Temptations of Gamespace
Looking back on my four years of college, there are few things I can say for certain. I've started to realize how lucky I’ve been to be able to spew nonsense on these pages, but that clearly hasn't sunk in just yet. Despite the incredible education Claremont McKenna has afforded me, the defining aspect of starting to enter the real world has been uncertainty--a forced humility before what will be. I have only lived in this world for twenty two years; hopefully I will live for several times that more. Really I've only just started to grasp the questions that define our lives. But one thing I can say with confidence is that I don't regret refusing to play the game.[i] I have been rejected from more things than I can count, and I am painfully aware of each and every one. Princeton: thin envelope. Rhodes: no dice. These two things are probably related. Grades do matter. And you should write application essays keeping in mind what the judges want to hear. Yet there's something more to life than success through these narrowly defined metrics.
That thing, of course, is called actually living. Life is a beautiful, magical, and--much as we young people hate to admit it--a transitory thing. So when I hear a freshman stressing about his summer internship plans or some sophomores trading tips about the LSAT, I die a little inside. I desperately want to tell them, loudly and with my fist clenched around their shirt: "You're freaking 18, 19 years old. Go bond with friends over a thirty rack of natty light. Go read a great book that will shatter your worldview. Go do something, anything, except wallow in such self-imposed misery." The point is not so much that they need to get a life, but that they have already chosen not to live one.
I can't say I blame them for their choice; it's eminently understandable. The presence of the meritocracy is all around us. In many ways, it is the defining aspect of our generation and of Claremont McKenna. That's not a bad thing, but it, like anything, does have consequences. The characteristics that define CMC affect who we are as CMCers. There are clear barriers to get in here, and there are objective ways to measure how far we’ve come when we get out. Grades. Test scores. Internships. These are the symbols through which we adjudicate success in our overachiever environment.
Those measurements, however, are just one set of lines that run through the totality of life. They do not reflect the quality of our friendships, the depth of our integrity, or the sincereness of our devotion to family, God, or country; they measure everything, in short, except that which makes life meaningful. And they tell us everything about ourselves except that which will make us fulfilled to be who we are.
Acknowledging the lack of perspective I have with my brief, fake-world life, I think I've found my passion. I love California more than any one person should, and man is it fulfilling. So with a heap of hesitation and a dash of self-awareness, I'd like to give you some advice:
Don’t be merely a function of social exigencies.
Don’t forget to ask the big questions.
Don't be afraid to make mistakes.
Never let people tell you to stop dreaming.
Those are the things that have helped me to start figuring myself out--to parse away the layers of norms, expectations, and lies we tell ourselves to figure what we really want. Finding that--the thing that keeps you awake night after night and for which you are willing, even happy, to work for hours on end, day after day--is a big part of what makes life worth living. Some of you may disagree,[iii] but I will say this: try asking yourself what you really, truly, deeply want out of life. I'm certain you won't regret it.
[i] This was the subject of some controversy in the Atwater household when I was in high school. My mom, for example, suggested I take an SAT class. I patently refused, thinking that spending my time cooped up in a fluorescent lit room would be a waste of time. I can also proudly say that I have only ever cared about what I learn from the classes I take--occasionally to the exclusion of good grades.
[ii] Please don't take that as an invocation to become a dirty Pitzer hippie. (And for goodness sake don't take that as anything but a playful poke at our beloved neighbor to the North.)
[iii] Here I'm envisioning some disgusting happiness-monger saying something along the lines of "Ignorance is bliss" or invoking some sort of perpetual sensory pleasure machine. But I'm not willing to accept an existence analogous to highly evolved slime. Purpose, meaning, fulfillment, all flowing from the distinctively human capacity of cognition--those are things that are worth talking about.