I read Zack Hill's "Finding Common Ground" (5/23/2008) with a mixture of disappointment and disgust. As a U of C alum, I wholeheartedly disagree with Hill's basic contention that "life here is entirely unspectacular...[and] the uncommon life is actually pretty common." As far as I know, Hill has never attended another college, and he has no way of discerning what may or may not make a U of C experience distinctive or in any way "uncommon." To argue, then, that Chicago students should simply—and however grudgingly—recognize that they are "a fairly typical group of young adults" is foolhardy.
As a law student now at the University of Pennsylvania, I have the benefit of being able to compare the Chicago to a peer institution with more telling scrutiny. I'm always struck by the lack of connection Penn students exhibit when discussing their school. Rightly billed as the generically social school that Hill seems to envy, Penn students seem complacent and satisfied with their experience ("it's a good Ivy League school—definitely not the best—and a fun time"), but they rarely display any sort of true passion about the place. Personally, I've had a great time at Penn, but I don't feel any particular connection to it—I find it pretty bland as far as schools go. To be sure, Chicago students like "going to baseball games and having fun at Six Flags," because U of C students are still, at heart, kids. It's unreasonable for Hill to expect that Chicago students can spend hours in a library without occasionally pining for a Nintendo break. At the same time, soon after leaving Chicago, many alumni realize that the U of C possesses an intensity, commitment to inquiry, and a seriousness that is unmatched in the world of higher education.
Admittedly, all the advertising of Chicago as a completely "uncommon" institution may stand as hyperbole. Chicago students, just like all college students, enjoy drinking and Indiana Jones and everything else Hill mentioned in his misguided article. Generally, though, U of C students display a solid interest in academic pursuits and do not just view their education as a quick pathway to material success. Subsequently, most Chicago students develop an appreciation for academics as an enterprise and the U of C's pivotal role in furthering this goal. To me, this trait makes Chicago and its students decidedly uncommon.
Finally, while Hill and many of his peers at the U of C are ever quick to complain, I wish graduating fourth-years would develop a characteristic that more appropriately behooves the University: a sense of appreciation.