Appreciating the Opportunities That Come With Higher Education

The trays in Boston College’s dining halls have been gathering dust for years, as many students know. They’re occasionally used by a fresh-faced frosh not yet hip to the culture or a visiting dad who couldn’t possibly imagine ditching practicality in the name of conformity. Undergrads, instead of using something literally designed to alleviate the strain, will begin stacking items one on top of the other until they look like an Applebee’s waiter during half-priced apps. They couldn’t bear to look out of place, and will theoretically keep stacking until the Babelonic tower falls.

As much as I love writing about Dining Services, the hyperbolic image serves a purpose other than looking at how students carry food. I can’t take credit for the metaphor, but I find it particularly apt when looking at how it reflects the entire student body. We pile on responsibilities—a job, schoolwork, clubs and the like—until the base we deem strong crumbles under the weight. If there are already pre-existing issues like mental health or a fractured home, the effect is magnified.

Okay, I’ll ditch the increasingly mixed metaphor—don’t shoot, George—but these issues are present at BC, so it fits the mold of the stereotypical BC perfectionist perfectly. Tossed into this expectation of finding success with ease, there are external forces, like parental pressure, and internal, like guilt, acting on an already stressed individual, which can send one deeper into the depths rather than excel to new heights. Then, even when one stressor leaves the equation, another can immediately replace it no matter how mundane or inconsequential.

It’s the never ending pattern that plagues almost every student, but—although I’m not privileged enough to experience another university’s campus culture—it seems to manifest itself strongly in Chestnut Hill. So much so, at times, I wish for a life void of expectation, void of attempts at perfection.

The sentiment is most pervasive when I ride the Comm. Ave. bus. I look out the wide window and see the construction worker, the trash truck operator, the meter maid, and I wish for just a second that I could be them. I don’t think about the wear on the body of using a jackhammer everyday, or the deterioration of knee ligaments from jumping from a truck onto the street thousands of times a week, or making less in a shift than a single parking ticket issued. Nope, I wish, just for a second, to be blissfully rid of the pressure bestowed on me, the student.

I’ve come to understand the daydream is misplaced, and even more so, a patronizingly offensive one of pity. When reflecting on the fallacy, however, I drew from it something valuable. It’s not the derived platitude of cherishing my opportunity because others have it harder, even though it does apply. I think of it this way: The laborers are in the same position my father was when he was working toward the goal of giving me the privilege to look out the bus window. They’re laboring to give someone else the power of choice they were never afforded. Yes, with choice comes stress, but the opportunity is a privilege many never get, yet many worked for you to have.

It could be said that recognizing the effort by others ensuring your place at BC adds another level of pressure to succeed, although I see it operating in a separate stratum. The ability to reflect on the sacrifices others took brings gratitude and inspiration, and allows one to embrace the challenges ahead, rather than serve as another imposing force of expectation. Reflection of this type externalizes internal motivation so stressors can work in tandem instead of in conflict.

Not everyone’s parents experienced this line of work, but every parent wants their child to finish ahead of where they started. This perspective—to me—brings life and justification into the endless suction of midterms and meetings. It doesn’t, however, give any answers or suggestions when it comes to breaking the mold of perfection—whether or not to pick up the dusty tray. From what I’ve garnered, I’m lucky enough to have the choice.

Featured Graphic by Anna Tierney / Graphics Editor