By: Zach Sterman, YSU President  | 

From The President’s Desk: The Best Years of Your Life

Person A: “How’s YU?”

Student: “It’s ok. You know, it’s school.”

This is a dialogue disappointingly common at YU. More often than not, the reason for this tepid outlook has little to do with the dual curriculum or our gender-separate campuses. No, rather, this apathy has far more to do with one’s approach to the college experience. The “it’s just school” people are the ones who view school as a means to an end; the “I’m just here so I get a degree and a job” types, and they’ll tempt you with some very rational arguments.

They’ll tell you that you need a job; that you need to choose classes that will allow for an easier/higher GPA; that you should pick a major leading directly into a career. If you view college through this prism then you are bound to choose studies that disinterest you, spend your days on whatever work and classes need to be done and then immediately retire to your room or apartment for the evening, invest little time in extra curricular activities or other causes beyond those required for your perceived resume needs… After all, who has time for extra curricular activities? How is political activism going to get me a job in finance? And what practical purpose does Shakespeare serve if I’m going to be an accountant?

Now, let me clarify: I am not saying any of those behaviors or thought processes, in a vacuum, are wrong or unjustified. I am aware of the pressures that drive us to seek out various career options, and I am aware of the immense amount of focus and time those career paths can call for. And, in fact, those respective behaviors really are not the causes or the root issue, but rather the symptoms of the attitude that makes for an apathetic college experience. In moderation any of those practices are perfectly healthy and even necessary to success around here. However,  if your experience becomes consumed by anxiety about what comes after college – if your life is dictated solely by doing what you need to do, and rarely by what you want to do – then you will likely fall into the category of those counting down the days until graduation; those using college merely as a means to an end, instead of as an opportunity for real personal development. If you fill your day with lukewarm activities, studies, and focuses, the result will be a lukewarm experience.

But not all students view their experience as “just school.” There are also a great deal of YU students deeply committed to using their undergraduate careers as a springboard to grow their perspectives on the world, to explore ideas, experiences, and opportunities, and from them I have taken great inspiration.

I’ve seen over time that the opportunities for growth and the experiences that mold an identity within the college experience are shapeless. They come in endless variations, because they are not a matter of doing any one particular thing. It isn’t about going to parties, studying esoteric subjects, or forfeiting an inch of career aspiration, per se. Rather, it’s a philosophy. A lifestyle accessible to all people – religious or not, outgoing or not – that is rooted in curiosity and the desire to push oneself to learn and experience something new each and every day. It’s about finding what genuinely speaks to you as a person and just doing it, not for the sake of a resume, but for the sake of taking in something new and different, and growing from it.

The breadth of opportunity on campus is immense. These short years are the time to grow your identity and build yourself as a person. They are a chance to delve into self-exploration and interests that will be scarcely available outside the freethinking, intellectual incubator that is college. However you choose to explore – be it a Thursday night party or a Thursday night kumzits; political activism through College Republicans or Democrats; a foray into campus journalism; reading the newspaper every day, or once a week; picking up a podcast; traveling the country, or the world; visiting a museum; going skydiving – push yourself to experience something new. Something different. Challenge your comfort zone.

The result of these experiences is more profound than a mere list of YOLO-inspired activities. Rather, they open your mind to new ideas and different ways of thinking. Adopting this philosophy of exploration enables us to discover new passions; to study our religious and spiritual identities; to hone our understanding of ourselves and of people who see the world differently; to feel independent and remove one’s self from the constraints and molds of expectations and pressures; to experience the moment. There will always be a next step that needs planning. Here you have a unique opportunity to stop and look around – to grow into someone more dynamic, more confident, and more interesting. And who knows – ironically, that might just up your professional capital as well. Steve Jobs once said of people who haven’t had diverse experiences, “…they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

Set out from college and into life’s next steps not only with a degree and job credentials, but with an identity constructed upon a foundation of diverse experience. Leave with an identity bolstered by self-exploration and a drive to continue growing as a person. From what I’ve seen, not only does that turn apathetic college experiences rich, but also makes for a richer existence for life.