Slightly arrogant, yet well intentioned. This is the perfect descriptor for a college student. We think we know everything. And in a way, we do, especially if we embrace a liberal arts education and avoid limiting ourselves to our intended career field. We absorb history and science and philosophy and math and the arts throughout our college careers. We’re bombarded with Freud, Einstein, Plato, Socrates, the Bible, Shakespeare, Joyce, Newton, Galileo, Churchill, King, and on and on and on, learning from those of past ages and into our own and beyond. So in a way, we do know everything. We’re generalists. We know a little bit about a whole lot.
Through these readings and experiments and calculations, we construct a world view. We take things that speak to us, that make us feel something, that get us intrigued or involved or infuriated, and we piece together how we see the world, how we think it should be, and how we can change it. And then, when people ask about these things, the filter comes off. And we’re written off as pretentious snobs with very little knowledge about anything, especially the “real world.”
But what we have that many people don’t is perspective. We’ve studied the texts and events that originally created the “real world.” We’ve learned a bit about why people behave the way they do. We’ve looked carefully at a wide scope of subjects and analyzed them– either once, or many times from a variety of view points. So while we may not truly know what it’s like in the “real world,” we can see the problems, the fallacies, and even the good things from our protected little sphere of academia that people can’t see in the field. We’re not experts by any means. But we aren’t dummies, either. We just can’t understand how and why it can be so difficult to change things. That’s what we’ll figure out in the real world.
It’s hard enough knowing that we’re heading towards a world of inequality, unemployment, discrimination, lack of opportunity, and just all around suck. Many of us are already experiencing it alongside the idealized “college experience.” We aren’t so naive as to be disillusioned about our futures. Most of us aren’t trying to impress anyone by reciting some obscure philosophical text or designing an experiment to challenge a scientific hypothesis. Honestly, we’re usually just doing it for the grades and a degree, and ultimately a career. But every so often we do these things because we truly believe they’re relevant and they can make a difference, that they can change something, even if that something is just one person’s opinion.
So give us a break. Let us think we have all the answers. Let us have strong emotions, and let us act on them (within reason, of course). Let us bask in our pseudo-genius for the few years we have before the “real world” claims us and makes us as skeptical and jaded as you. Leave us our optimism. Allow us to experience and discover and epiphanize and imagine and dream and create. Throughout history, it’s been young adults just like us, old enough to know there are problems that need fixing, but young enough to still believe we can fix them. Belief can do extraordinary things. So believe in us.