College Never Ends (Or Shouldn’t)

One of the things I love most about working at Biola University (a Christian university in Southern California) is that every day feels like I’m back in college myself. It’s an environment overflowing with ideas and discussions and lectures and interesting people. And my job requires me to interact and intellectually engage with professors and students on a regular basis. I absolutely love it.

Today, 1,300 new students arrive at Biola. The campus is buzzing with nervous freshman and weepy parents, carrying IKEA chairs into dorm rooms and making shopping lists for Target. It reminds me of the day 9 years ago when my own parents helped me move in to Traber dorm at Wheaton College, when my dad said goodbye to me in my dorm room while mom stayed behind in the car (she was too emotional to venture into the dorm to bid me farewell).

It reminds me of the first awkward orientation week of college, which was a weird and wonderful mix of making new friends, playing get-to-know-you games, and developing early crushes on girls from our “sister floor.”

It reminds me of the insane, life-altering blur that was college: Plato, theology, dorm parties, Neil Postman, media ecology, liturgy, falling leaves, Dostoevsky, art galleries, C.S. Lewis, David Lynch, late night debates about Calvinism, taking the train to Chicago, jazz festivals, football games, roadtrips, and on and on and on.

Part of me envies the incoming freshman, coming to Biola (and universities across the country) this weekend to start the journey that will forever change the way they think about the world. I lament the fact that college goes by so fast and the crazy concentration of learning and living in community is, at the end of the day, the exception in life rather than the rule.

But then I realize that it’s silly to envy these new students, because the intellectual journey they’re beginning now is one that I’m still very much on. It’s not something that has to stop, or even slow down, after graduation. On the contrary. Just because I no longer have to read 300-page books in a day for a class, doesn’t mean that I won’t still want to read 300 page books in general, as often as I’m able to.

The mark of a good college is that it trains you to want to keep learning, to keep reading, and to keep broadening your experience and understanding of the world, long after the days of worrying about credits and GPA. Sure, the “real world” of earning a living sometimes makes it hard to continue one’s intellectual journey. After an 8-hour-day at work, it’s usually not the case that I feel like picking up The Brothers Karamazov. But when I do make the time to keep developing my mind and challenging my perspective, I never regret it.

To the new students who are nervous, excited, and overwhelmed by the beginning of college, I urge you to enjoy every second of it and make the most of your education. And to the graduates who look back nostalgically on the cherished “college days,” I remind you that education doesn’t end with a diploma.

The world is far too complex, troubled, beautiful and dynamic for us to ever just exist in. It beckons us to make sense of it. To carve at least some comprehension out of the vast incomprehensibility of existence. This is what education is about. For anyone who cares about the destiny of this world, education is a high calling: a pursuit without end that is never wholly futile and never fully satisfying.

To attain knowledge, think critically, and ask questions is to engage the world in all of its furious complexity and elusive mystery — a maddening endeavor, to be sure, but one that will never grow tiresome and certainly not be exhausted by 4 years of college… Awesome and unparalleled as those 4 years may be.

7 responses to “College Never Ends (Or Shouldn’t)

  1. I was lucky enough to work at Wheaton for 7 yrs after graduation, and now another 7 yrs later, I still miss it, esp in the fall, for all the reasons you give and more. I love the earnestness, the vigor, the passion for all things new, the hope that only good things lie ahead, and the courage to face great difficulty. And I agree – there is no reason to be envious, as the Christian life never ceases to challenge, excite, and grow us, whether on a campus or not. Thanks for all you do to remind us to keep pursuing these things.

  2. Ahh. reading your post reminds me of my college life. Things will never be the same as soon as you start earning for your paycheck.

  3. Pingback: Hipsters, Faith, and Truth | onehandclapping

  4. The mark of a good college is that it trains you to want to keep learning, to keep reading, and to keep broadening your experience and understanding of the world, long after the days of worrying about credits and GPA.

    I have found that Wheaton College has done just that.
    Malin Friess (98) Kenya

  5. Hello Brett,
    I just read this text and it felt like a glove on my spirit now. I’m about to do 30 years old on sunday and i’ve been thinking on my early twenties, when my mind and body were just too execited with new sensations to even stop to think and sometimes take a breath. I’m a little bit nostalgic about that times but i just need to think that there aren’t no reasons to put an end to my will to explore and to be mentaly and physicaly restless. May we all live better and help others to live better.
    Hugo Guerra

  6. This entry comes at the perfect time for me. After my gap year I’ve started in as a freshman at Belhaven University, and I’ve been eager to start inhaling all the knowledge I can from these classes for months. So far the “glory” of the college social scene is lost on me, but I absolutely love the idea of setting apart these years for growing my mind. I have so many doubts and setbacks at the moment that disrupt that idea, but if I’m here for a purpose…hopefully it’s a good one.

  7. I miss Biola. I transferred there after going to a school called “Liberty” for a year, which turned out to be quite the opposite. I graduated in 2003 with a degree in English, and, yeah. You are blessed. Reading your post gave me panic attacks, though, remembering those first months of college. I so am not upset I’m not doing that again.

    Did you happen to know a girl named Becs Richert who went to Wheaton while you were there? She’s one of my closest friends and graduated a year after me (2004).

    I started “Hipster Christianity” last night, and am thoroughly enjoying it. Not only is your story almost *exactly* like mine (I grew up a 90s child, and was fed Sandi Patti as a young’n, Michael W. Smith as a middle schooler, and Jars of Clay in high school–never really “rebelled” but got tired of not rebelling). My husband, children and I attend a small (fairly rural) Conservative Baptist church made up of mostly 60+-year-olds, but that doesn’t mean I don’t occassionally have the desire to pack my bags and move to something a little “more our age”. Thanks for the reminder that it’s ok to be uncool and that people are loved by God no matter how hip they are.

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