Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
I don’t think that I will ever be able to forget about college. That’s a bummer, because I am more than ready to.
Don’t get me wrong. The time I actually spent there was great, I think. Conventional Wisdom says they were some of the best days of my life. I can’t be sure since it was gone in a flash at an age when it didn’t have my complete attention. But, I won’t argue with it because I did learn somewhere else that going against Conventional Wisdom is usually reserved for dropouts and geniuses, neither of which the evidence from my college transcripts will prove that I am.
Be that as it may, college has been irritatingly close to the center of my being for as long as I can remember, and possibly before that if my mother was of the enlightened ilk that played Mozart to distended wombs even though they would have preferred Dean Martin, banking on buzz that classical music would one day help their babies score better on the math portion of the SATs when they would most likely be doing their homework to AC/DC.
I’ve never had the courage to ask her. I prefer to preserve in my mind those first precious months of my existence as being free from the pursuit of higher education. I don’t believe that she was the type to buy into that kind of prenatal hype, but it is college we are talking about and that can drive the most sensible person eternally insane.
It is not at the particular universities I attended where my gripe took root. They were venerable institutions with solid reputations in sports and education, set in idyllic landscapes, one practically on the beach and the other nearly as close to the mountains. I had three squares a day, a roof over my head, and 24-hour access to the library. Two out of three of these amenities I took advantage of regularly. Who could ask for more?
What irks me is that college preparation begins as soon as our formal socialization does and participation in the process continues until the time when our grandchildren will flip the tassels on their mortarboards. The only escape from “the college experience” appears to be death.
The 90 years of college begins at about the age of 4. There are wait-lists at the best preschools that, if you are accepted, will give you a leg up when everyone gets to kindergarten. Forget the cost. It is here that we begin to focus our eyes on the prize – college!
After this crayon-and-alphabet-blocks initiation things get serious. In elementary and middle school kids have to keep busy. Every activity before, during and after school is regarded as an opportunity to become more attractive to colleges. Take French in fifth grade so that you can say “bonjour” to the college admissions officer, then you can forget it all.
High school, of course, has nothing to do with high school. It’s all about college! In one sense we should be glad it is so simple. There are only three things you have to accomplish in high school: Get good grades. Get good SAT scores. Keep track of everything you do to put down on your college application.
The next step is to actually attend college. This is like the eye of the hurricane. It is a peaceful respite from the tempest that blows before and afterward. Enjoy it. Get rested. The real college experience is about to begin. What you will need to complete it is a high-paying job and good credit. Forget ideals, go for the dough.
One of the biggest misconceptions after graduation is that you will never be bothered with college again. Wrong! It is one of life’s great ironies that at approximately the same time you settle into the cubicle at your first job, the first installments on your student loans come due. The continuous flow of alumni charitable giving letters and dinnertime phone solicitations from students on work study is not far behind.
To give married life a completely fresh start, you use all available savings and cash from gaudy wedding gifts you returned to pay off what’s left of the student loans. Hallelujah! Free from the college ties that bind (cash flow) at last!
Not so fast. Now you settle down and act responsibly for the first time since writing your college essays. You know what college costs. Even though your first child is but a twinkle in your eye, its time to open up a 529 Plan and start socking away money for her education. The actuarial tables prove it: If college tuition continues to escalate at current rates you will have to save $2,486.24 each month for the next 20 years to afford the first semester at a state university. Get busy. Next comes grad school.
At a point in time approaching the next ice age, your kids will finally be through with college and 10 years later you will have paid off the second mortgage that made it all possible. Then you will be able to pursue things that truly interest you and begin to actually participate in those great community organizations that you have been a member of for the past 20 years. It is then you will realize what most of these organizations are really all about – raising money for college scholarships! If you can’t arrange to have a few of these awarded to your grandchildren, guess what? You get to help out with their college educations, too.
So, never mind that you can’t remember what your college GPA was or that nobody cares what college you went to except to know what its mascot is at a March Madness party. Don’t fret that you have only a vague recollection of how Australian Aboriginals hunt giraffes or what impact the Pythagorean Theorem had on the development of Western civilization, if any. You can say what you want about these shortcomings of higher education. College is forever!
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