Letter to the editor: Academia’s Outsiders: Dreaming Between Practicalities

It is difficult exactly to explain what a university is. The closest approximation might be to see it as a cross between a bee hive and a temple. The hallways throng with students and faculty, busily buzzing back and forth from classroom to study hall to cafeteria to break hall to lab to gym to dormitory. All of this is pursued with great solemnity; textbooks are opened and pored over with deep reverence, lectures are attended as acolytes to great revelations, couches are collapsed upon by prolific scholars who have gone too long without rest. And so on.

In fact, conventional simile breaks down completely. Suffice it to say that a university is, more than anything else, exactly like a university. Kent State is no exception.

To make some headway in the controlled chaos, the best strategy is to know your part in it. And indeed, even a cursory glance will reveal a multitude of students eager to pursue their intended careers; bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (at least as bushy-tailed as one can be before the first Finals Week), they pursue their journeys with admirable aplomb and focus. They push themselves onward, by nerves, by strength, by a great deal of caffeine and similar chemicals. Their purpose lays before them like the Promised Land, and they will not rest until they have reached it.

At least, that’s the way it looks. For my part the enthusiasm seems to go against the very grain of being a student; not just the enthusiasm for assignments, but for going above and beyond to distinguish one’s self.

Now, I don’t think I’m a bad student by any means. I attend classes. I do homework. I’ve written a few papers that were considered above average; but I’ve always written them to the minimum length. I tend not to do extra credit unless I need it. I’ve never had to pull an all-nighter. In other words, I’ve always done the bare minimum necessary to pass classes, and not an iota more.

This is why I feel different. For these other students, their college career is the pathway to their purposes in life. They’re looking for vocations, not just jobs. Whereas I pursue my degree in journalism mostly because it seems easier to go with a degree than without, and because I want a job that will let me earn a living wage and grant me the time to pursue my actual dream: writing fiction.

I don’t feel any shame in admitting this anymore. I realized very early in my college career that this is what I wanted more than anything. At first I assumed that something would ‘click’ once I’d seen a bit more of college life; something that would put me on the pathway to a more realistic goal that I could feel enthusiastic about. But it never seemed to happen.

Aimlessness is not something they let you get away with for long around here. The university employs scores of people whose very job is to say to you: this is it. The Be All and End All. What you do here will set the path for your entire life. But never fear! You can choose! We have hundreds of choices! You just have to make the decision.

To be fair on them, the university also has programs for aspiring artists. But anyone serious about it can tell you that art isn’t something you can just learn. Or rather, it’s not something you can stop learning. You have to dedicate yourself to it, pursue it every moment you can spare, produce work after work after work in the hopes that something will be noticed, with no guarantee that it will be.

It takes a special kind of student to pursue a goal like that. A dispossessed kind.

I like journalism, I really do. I like the idea of chasing after a story with notebook in hand, sitting down with someone to ask some informed questions, and then writing down what I learned.

But I don’t want a career in it. Not really. Not a conventional one. I want the time to write, and the chance to be read.

I know I’m not alone in this. For everyone else in this university pursuing a dream they’re not sure of: keep at it. Art is the one thing the world cannot take from you. Practice your craft, when you can and when it works, and give it back. Let it be your gift to the rest of us.

And if in the meantime you have to settle—to take up a day job to make ends meet—don’t let it break you. You have time on your side.

Hold onto your dream. It’s the only thing that matters.

Contact Daniel Hale at [email protected]