Doug Cohen: The struggle to recapture the four years of college

“I know myself, but that is all.”

That was Amory Blaine’s final epiphany in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “This Side of Paradise.” It represents the culmination of his journey to finally define who he truly is.

Amory can be viewed as an ambitionless young man who seemingly wastes his youth, accomplishing little and struggling to determine his purpose and path in life.

Yet despite his shortcomings, many students at GW would likely be envious of Amory, especially now. Amory’s journey of self-exploration and soul-searching seemed quite foreign to me this winter break as I immersed myself in internship applications, networking leads and résumé-boosting activities.

This is what a long break has become for students.

One of the University’s greatest strengths – access to prime internships and jobs – is also a weakness. The hype surrounding the sexy internship and job options here can make students too career-programmed, which can be harmful for us as students and young adults.

In my dreamy conception of what college is supposed to be like, it is four years that largely shelter one from real-world issues such as jockeying for a job or planning a career path.

And while college should be a time to think about the future, there is a danger in hastening its arrival. The problem with the rush for the coolest internship or job is that it creates pressure to have a defined career-path and plan for the future, potentially diminishing one’s college experience.

This stress can lead many to believe that they must pick only majors that are marketable to employers, rather than ones that they truly love. Or, one might avoid a philosophy class because it supposedly doesn’t provide the skills necessary for the modern workforce. It can create the false perception that in these four years, there is no time for personal exploration, for experimentation or for – gasp – mistakes.

Now don’t feel threatened, GW Career Center. My point is not that all internships are evil or that students should immediately walk out of the Hill office where they work. But too often, we fail to maintain perspective on what these four years of college should really be about.

As I look forward to my final few semesters, my idealized image of college is quickly crumbling. My future shouldn’t be pestering me, because I am only 20 and still have time to make sense of the world just as Amory does.

So as I begin a new semester, I can only hope that such a college experience will become reality. I might not want my life to be just like Amory’s, but his own self-discovery is truly a triumph of its own, and one we should more often seek.

Even if it doesn’t fit perfectly into the ideal résumé mold.

Doug Cohen, a junior majoring in political science, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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