April 1, 2011

Wise beyond their years

U of C students can learn a lot from prospies' optimism

[img id="78849" align="alignleft"]

Six days ago, thousands of hyperventilating high school seniors found out they had been accepted to the UChicago Class of 2015. While we were enjoying the lazy, gloriously unproductive lull of break, they received e-mails informing them of their inclusion into our community.

None of this significantly increased my level of vacation-induced happiness, but their elation was clear when I semi-stalked their newly formed and burgeoning Facebook group. After experiencing a fleeting bout of nausea while scanning their gushy enthusiasm and sappy odes to the life of the mind, I returned to watching the Food Network on repeat. Then I returned from suburbia to Chicago, and lunch on Monday was packed with unfamiliar people clothed in newly-bought and overpriced phoenix sweatshirts, guarded by parents who insisted on inquiring as to my exact GPA, the amount of carbohydrates I eat daily, and the sexual deviancy facilitated by co-ed bathrooms.

This was followed by my walking to the first classes of spring quarter, an odyssey punctuated and very often impeded by tour groups making their leisurely way across campus. These little clusters of wide-eyed high school seniors (always shadowed at a distance of about ten feet by their proud, whispering families, “give them some space, honey, give them some space…”) were the final and tragic toll of the bell, the indisputable reminder that it was, indeed, prospie season.

Any student who has been on campus for more than a quarter knows how to identify one. Besides the conspicuous and omnipresent folders, they tend to simultaneously exude auras of muted helplessness and manic excitement. Some look like they haven’t hit puberty. Most don’t know the difference between the C-Shop and the Co-op. To be honest, many look like they wouldn’t know how to walk around the block by themselves.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed an additional and surprisingly pleasant indicator betraying the taint of prospiehood: All of them look happy. In an even stranger revelation, they all seem appreciative of just being on campus. Each seems to be imbued with a productive energy, a naïve and innocent sort of eagerness. And in what could be the product of my overactive imagination, every one of them is brimming with big ideas and bigger dreams, both rooted in merely attending the school I take for granted.

I call it the Prospie Phenomenon. It is essentially the antithesis to the senioritis we all succumbed to in our fading days of high school; a wave of goodwill and optimism, it is introduced like a plague each spring by these foreign invaders. It is at times annoying, tiring, and refreshing. But, more than anything, it is contagious.

Which is fine. Because here’s the thing: If everyone here retained the same sense of wonder, passion, and ambition they experienced when they got their admission letter, the University of Chicago would be a unique and electric environment, and one immediately changed for the better. I realize that part of college is becoming accustomed to your surroundings and, admittedly, part of that process involves not stopping to marvel at every Gothic building on the way to Sosc. I’m not asking for toasts to the Core at Bar Night; nor do I want to see kids frolicking through the quads barefoot, stopping only to gently kiss the grass of their beloved academic institution.

I want only the gradual destruction of the “comfortably numb," those sad souls who have decided to surrender to the upperclassmen traditions of self-deprecation, self-pity, and bittersweet resignation. It’s painful to realize that those who have not yet matriculated seem to know much more about how to approach and utilize opportunity at this school than its most seasoned veterans.

So yes, we can learn from prospies. This isn’t about admission statistics, or the latest arbitrary rankings compiled by the latest arbitrary publication, or any of the other over-discussed, overblown deficiencies in UChicago culture. I just think that, with the passage of time, a little bit of luck, and a slight tweak to our attitudes, we could harness the power of prospie enthusiasm without looking utterly lost or being newly admitted to the College.

Because contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think that UChicago is a soul-stomping conglomerate bent on mentally murdering its students. I think it’s a world-class university in a world-class city. Happiness at a college is not a given; it is not something covered in our tuition or the ever-enigmatic student life fee. It is constructed and perpetuated by a student body. We would do well to reflect on and appreciate the fact that, however sentimental or cliché it is, by just being enrolled at this school we are the envy of many—namely, those who clog our dining halls, sit in on our classes, and sleep in our rooms each spring.They’re there to learn from us, but maybe we just have it backwards.

Sharan Shetty is a second-year in the College majoring in Law, Letters, and Society.