Oregon Daily Emerald — January 10, 2007

Editor’s Note: This guy is taking much too seriously a quote that might not even be real.

In My Opinion: All downhill from here?
By Joe Bailey
Oregon Daily Emerald — Wednesday, January 10, 2007

“You have four years to be irresponsible here. Relax. Work is for people with jobs. You’ll never remember class time, but you’ll remember time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So, stay out late. Go out on a Tuesday with your friends when you have a paper due Wednesday. Spend money you don’t have. Drink ’til sunrise. The work never ends, but college does…”  — Tom Petty.

Perhaps no quotation is more prominent on Facebook profiles and dormitory walls than the words of Tom Petty. Petty’s quote is not popular because it is a new thought — there is nothing new about skipping class and drinking ’til sunrise — but because it perfectly expresses a common attitude. There is a widely held belief that college is the best time of a person’s life. As college students we do not speak from experience; instead, we say that college is the best time of life because that is what we are told. I understand that college grads reflect on these years nostalgically, especially when they compare the carefree, campus lifestyle with the demands of adulthood. But every time I am told that college is as good as it gets, I feel a little depressed.

Of course, college is fun. Many college students enjoy an absence of obligation combined with an abundance of time, friends and alcohol. But if Petty is right, then life after graduation will be an extended hangover. The philosophy that college is the greatest season of life delays adulthood, harms the spirit and causes students to lose perspective.

In 2002, Newsweek wrote a story on “Adultolescents” — a name for college grads who are still dependent on their parents. According to the 2000 census, almost four million people aged 25- to 34-years old live at home. There are a number of factors that cause young adults to live with their parents (but does a 33-year-old even qualify as a young adult?) — most seriously, physical and mental disability, but more commonly, financial pressures. I suspect that the rising costs of student loans are pushing many young people to save money by living with their parents after college, but that is not the only explanation.

Implicit in Petty’s attitude is the assumption that life after college is far less enjoyable than college life. A person who dreads the responsibilities that come with being an independent adult will likely be very tempted to preserve the college experience past graduation. Certainly, living with one’s parents is different from college life, but by remaining dependent on others, it is possible to delay the responsibilities of adulthood.

While Tom Petty articulates the feelings of many college students, another artist, John Mayer, refers to the feelings of post-college twentysomethings in his song “Why Georgia”: “It might be a quarter-life crisis/ or just the stirring in my soul.”  Petty and Mayer are singing about different points along the same path.  Embracing Petty’s attitude that college is a four-year vacation from the difficulties of life leads to an unavoidable conclusion: Graduation will be a dark day.  At 22, nobody wants to feel like their best days are behind them, but that is precisely the attitude that Petty endorses.  Given this attitude, a person will naturally feel a “stirring” in their soul, aching for more adventure and good times.

Of course, nobody wants to peak at the age of 22.  Perhaps, at some point we will all look back and say that, yes, college was in fact the best time of our lives. But to say that while we are still in college reveals a lack of imagination and perspective.  The problem with Petty’s attitude is not that his advice is bad, but that his advice is limiting.  Indeed, graduation will mean fewer opportunities for drunken adventures — though that line of thinking also reveals a lack of imagination. Graduation will also mean opportunities for new adventures.  The challenge for college students is to embrace these years, while keeping an eye on the future.  Take Petty’s advice, but don’t embrace his attitude.

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