Exuberance becomes apathy. Hours happily spent at the library become time spent half-consciously browsing YouTube. Admiration for your fellow students becomes envy, which in turn becomes contempt. Your well maintained and regulated diet becomes an unfortunate—though admittedly delicious—mixture of breakfast cereal and Otis Spunkmeyer cookies.
I am, of course, speaking of the transformation that most students undergo at the University of Chicago. In many ways, life at the U of C is fairly predictable: You enter as a fresh, open-minded student eager to read Hobbes for hours on end; you end up a bitter and somewhat scared upperclassman, eager only to spend your time trying to find a way out of your B.A. requirement. (Note to fellow NELC majors: There isn’t one.)
Is everyone disillusioned and unhappy at the University of Chicago? Of course not. But just about everyone experiences the same disappointments. You start off impressed with your dedication and work ethic, but become discouraged when your Hum professor reveals an uncanny ability to call on you repeatedly the one day you didn’t do the reading. You relearn how to write, pouring your heart and soul into a paper on ancient Greek philosophy, yet it takes your T.A. only 15 minutes to write on it, “B-, See me in my office hours.” You are inspired by the kids who have articulate things to say about every topic brought up in Sosc class, but then begin to question whether it is really necessary that these people speak every time they possibly can, and start to severely doubt that everything in Sosc class is actually relevant to Adorno.
Flush with excitement, you join a plethora of RSOs. You find out that you’re not good at as many activities as you should be; even worse, you find that you’re pretty bad at some things you were good at in high school. All the while, your amazement at the kids who excel at everything morphs into cynicism. Are they actually good at all of that? When will other people figure out that they’re full of it? You come to the realization that the kids who excel at everything are also the ones who always mention Adorno, which only exacerbates your hatred.
You love the city of Chicago. You ride the #6, the Metra, and the Red Line to go downtown. You become adventurous and go even farther. Belmont, Pilsen, Devon, Chinatown, and Wicker Park are among your destinations. You become immensely depressed when you realize that you know several upperclassmen who have never ventured north of East 53rd Street and for whom the closing of the dining halls on Saturday night means ordering delivery from the Med. You grow even sadder when, come the brutal winter, you become one of those people.
I think it’s safe to say that a major part of life at the University of Chicago is disappointment. Disappointment in yourself for not being as smart or as hardworking as you should be, and disappointment at the school for not being what it should be. The University isn’t perfect, but the fact is, you entered the U of C with unfair expectations. You expected it to be everything that high school wasn’t; you expected it to be something that no school could actually be: a utopia.
How you deal with this disappointment will be vital to your experience at the U of C. Some people quickly dismiss the feeling and become happy with the University of Chicago that actually exists. Others allow the disappointment to linger and turn to hatred, spending their time complaining and writing angry opinion pieces for the MAROON. Many fall in between. As a recent graduate, and someone who is therefore theoretically wiser, I wish there were advice I could pass along to incoming students about how to deal with the fall that they will experience after the high of first being here. Unfortunately, I have no such words of wisdom. (Insert joke here about the fickle relationship between theory and reality.) The best I can say is to simply experience it as it comes. When you reach the inevitable stage of disappointment, keep in mind that you used to think life here was pretty great, and it probably could be again if you can get over the realization that the University of Chicago is not all you hoped it would be.