JOE WEBB AND CO. – THE WRITTEN WORLD

LESSON #53: TAKING A YEAR OFF

Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on February 10, 2009

LESSON #53: TAKING A YEAR OFF

typewriter3 So, in every interview I’ve given so far about the Dr. Wizard project, one question has always come up: “Does the University know?”Now, in reality, what most reporters have meant when they have asked this question is not necessarily whether or not the University is aware of this website, but whether or not the University has a problem with the advice (and the occasional profanities) that we choose to dole out.Well, for a long time I was held in suspense. But today, metaphorically speaking, we were called to the principal’s office, and…

…it was awesome!Turns out, after reading the article in Thursday’s Post-Dispatch, the administration would like to bring the members of the Dr. Wizard group on as creative consultants to help juice up the human angle of SLU graduate life in their recruitment materials, and would like to prominently feature and help disseminate information about Dr. Wizard’s Advice for College Students from their homepage.To this, I say…Fuck Yeah!So, in light of this recent development, and given yesterday’s guest post from Myles (or, as he’s known around here, Funktified Acoustic), I thought today would be the perfect opportunity to show my appreciation by writing a post that could conceivably cut into the University’s revenue stream. That’s right, today I’ll be advising students to consider taking a year off from college.

You see, because I am perpetually early for everything, before going to my meeting with the Graduate School Dean this afternoon, I had about an hour to just sit on a park bench in the middle of the quad and watch students stroll by in their shorts and Ugg boots.Of course, it took me awhile to get past this preposterous clothing choice (remember the Tim McGraw and Nelly post?) – but after I did, I began to wonder just how many of these young Billikens would benefit in the long run by staying away from campus for a year.And my conclusion?Most of them.

Why?Well, the four years we spend in college are meant to be an exciting, intellectually stimulating, and amazingly fun experience – but they are also meant to be taken seriously, and are extremely expensive.Some students, upon graduating high school, are ready to take on this responsibility, and have a clear idea of what they want to accomplish in their life, as well as a firm appreciation for the privilege that is being bestowed upon them. These students may be ready for the $100,000 investment that is a college education. This, however, is actually pretty rare.The far more likely scenario is that because we live in an era where college is the expected norm, where movies and television shows play up the fun angles of attending parties but not attending class, and where Universities cater to the consumer experience, most students go to college immediately upon graduating high school (and subsequently stay there for four consecutive years) because that’s just what they’re “supposed to do.”But this is just a ridiculous to do anything. So today, I’m here to tell you this: if you’re not ready for college yet, and if you aren’t capable of maximizing both the social and academic opportunities that college will provide you – then do something else until you are.

blue1 Now, I’m not saying that you should wait until you’re the age of Blue in Old School to show up on campus and pledge (like Piven says in the movie – “Did you see this one guy?He’s like a hundred years old”), or even that you should wait until you’re 35 like Scott Bakula in Necessary Roughness – but there’s no shame in waiting a year or two, and taking that year to either volunteer, drift aimlessly through South America, or work at some menial job so that you do, in fact, understand the value of an education when you arrive on the ivy-covered campus of your choosing at the age of 19 or 20.And making this choice doesn’t necessarily signify that you’re not smart enough for college at 18; in fact, it might signify that you’re both smart enough for college and wise enough to know that you’re not ready yet.

Take, for example, our good friend Myles – who was clearly both mature enough for his age (by the age of eleven, he was performing as a paid magician at restaurants and Christmas parties; and by the age of eighteen, he was playing four nights a week in a bar-band while holding down a 44-hour a week job and running his Church’s contemporary music program) and intelligent enough to handle a college workload at 18 (he attended the Illinois Math and Science Academy – one of the most selective high schools in America), but was also brave enough to make the choice to stay away for a few years, and is now hurtling towards his diploma with a lone “B” on his transcript.If you ask him seriously, he’ll tell you, all jokes about Hardly Portland aside, that he’s a better and more appreciative student now because of his “lost years.”The same holds true for a lot of my other friends, who took time off and benefited from the period of reflection, and for me, who sold cars for 60 hours a week in 2003.

By way of another bizarre example, let’s consider the fact that for once, and I can’t believe that I’m going to say this – because I think they’re wrong about so many other things and I think Big Love is crazy – the Mormons may have it right.Before graduating from college, almost every Mormon student takes a two-year mission trip to serve others and to subsequently do a little of their own growing up.The same is true of students in Israel, students in Switzerland, and any other country with required military service (by the way, the U.S. military is also a good choice if you want to put college off for four years. I had friends from high school who left for the military as jack-asses and came back grown men, ready to tackle college seriously – and they almost all graduated Summa Cum Laude). Evidently, both the Mormons and the Israeli military realize that while some people are ready for college at 18, most others can benefit from a little buffer zone of service – and, perhaps because it’s difficult to tell who’s who, they just figure the time away from school won’t hurt anybody, and I kind of agree with them.

Finally, because many of you are neither Israeli nor Mormon, because many of you might be a little hesitant to leave school for a year to drift through South America, and because many of your parents might be hesitant to allow this Amazonian journey – which is something, from their perspective, that I guess I understand – particularly if they’re footing the collegiate bill, (another sidenote: if you want to give this South American experience a shot, like my friend Luke Trautwein did, you might try the angle that you’ll be spending their money on college much more effectively upon your return), let’s close today’s lesson with a practical metaphor about factory life. For this is, truth be told, where I would recommend that you take your menial job if working for a year is the route you choose to go. Nothing will make you appreciate college like 10 hours a day on an assembly line.

bagels1 In my hometown of Mattoon, Illinois, most of the factories have closed their doors over the course of the past few years and have relocated abroad.There are two, however, that continue to operate effectively – Lender’s Bagels and Kal-Kan Dog Food – because it’s too expensive and inefficient to grow and ship food from outside of America to our heartland (for human or canine consumption).Not surprisingly, given the tenor of this post, I’ve had friends who have elected to stay home from school for a year in the middle of their college careers to work at each of these places.And here’s the great irony: evidently, one of the things about working at Kal-Kan that is crazily bizarre is that the dog-food smells so good it makes you hungry – (gross, right?!?) – and one of the horrible things about working at Lender’s Bagels is that, up close and personal, the smell of a million blueberry bagels is overpoweringly sweet, sickening, and awful.Well, of course, this is exactly the opposite of what the outside world would expect to be the case (which, technically, is what makes the situation ironic). And thus, it’s not surprising that when you tell someone who doesn’t know any better that the dog food, against all odds, actually smells great, they tell you that you’re crazy. But sometimes the truth bucks convention. By the same token, if, after reading this advice, you someday choose to take a semester or two off because you think it will help you academically in the long run, it wouldn’t be surprising for people to tell you that you’re similarily crazy.But it doesn’t mean you won’t be right. Hey, they laughed at Louis Armstrong when he told people he was going to the moon, but now he’s up there, laughing at us. Or wait…anyway, you get my point.

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4 Responses

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  1. Carlin said, on February 10, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    I’m glad the university is so welcoming of your blog! And I’m super pumped about the daily postings this week!

    Otherwise, this post confused me. I could be wrong, being very un-Mormon and all, but I think it is a pretty big over-generalization that every Mormon completes their mission before graduating college. It’s encouraged, but not mandatory. And from my understanding, men are expected to do this before like age 25, and women can be even more flexible. (I understand this doesn’t directly relate to the moral of your post, but a valid correction regardless)

    Also, I am not privy to the “common perceptions that the dog food smells great.” I went to college next to a dog food making plant. Or assembly line. Or something Purina related. It smells like dog food in Harrisonburg, VA like, all the time. It doesn’t smell any better permeating through the air than it does fresh out of the bag- I promise.

  2. funktifiedacoustic said, on February 11, 2009 at 1:56 am

    Living just down the street from the bagel factory, I have to say that Wednesdays were my favorite days to run this summer because of the blueberry scented air on the west end of town. Delicious!!!

  3. Sandy Womack said, on February 11, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    When I read funktified’s blog, I thought it was Myles and I was right. For a nephew, he’s a pretty cool guy. I never worked at the bagel or dog food factories, but I did spend 11 long years at Donnelley’s printing plant. And, I can say with absolute confidence, that one year there should be enough to convince anyone waffling about college to take the leap. It is hot, heavy and dirty work without so much as a waft of an appetizing aroma, paper dust stinks! And, Joe, thanks to the Journal Gazette, I am an avid fan of your blog and I’m 50+. Just wish I could get my 18 year old college bound son to read it; I think he would benefit from it.

  4. Harold said, on April 1, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    Sandy if you read this, tell me if you lived in St. louis for a short while after attending PS there – or if you remember a kitten named IBK.
    Harold


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