College is fantastic, right? Well, maybe not for all. I suppose it can be a bad experience. But for most of the students I encounter it is a period of fun mixed with intense study and intentional exploration.
For six years I’ve watched a culture of young adults gather in a community focused on academics. Of course, that’s the stated obvious focus but it’s often not the whole. Extracurricular activities such as playing sports, watching sports, acapella groups, debate teams, student councils, theatre groups, community service groups, fraternities and sororities, and yes even campus ministries can shape and set the tone to a student’s college experience…not the actual school work. Academics are always at the core but rarely are they the whole. Usually it’s rare to meet an 18 year old who knows what they want to do the rest of their life, but at Wash U. it seems to be the norm. High school students with high aspirations and blemish-free report cards and résumés land in a sea of students with equally impressive résumés. This sets the stage for a very competitive and intense atmosphere in the classroom and in the social construct.
It’s chaotic and very entertaining to be a witness to this very competitive environment. It’s not only in the classroom, but it’s in sports (best overall NCAA DIII school in the nation), the acapella groups, councils, and the million clubs. Students are out to succeed and they mean it. The spirit of success is great, and I certainly support it. In fact, I believe most of the students at Wash U. not only want to succeed, but they want to contribute to the world in a manner that will only make it a better place. Recently a group of students from Wash U. found a running clothing company called Janji
that not only makes awesome running clothes, but it’s a non-profit movement that aims to end the global food and water crisis. Through selling their running apparel they fund solutions and raise awareness to brining clean water and food to the world.
If this isn’t inspiring I’m not sure what is.
What is most inspiring to me is that these students were called to create something beautiful in the world and they followed this call. Sure, the most obvious route might have been to wait until they graduate and follow the standard path (grad school), but the Janji founders didn’t follow conventional wisdom, and took their love of running and made an impact in the world…all while still in college! I love this story because to me it’s not just about the résumé. It’s more than about getting straight A’s. It’s so much more than just looking good on paper. I worry that too many students are so fixated on being perfect on paper that they lose touch with other valuable, artistic, cultural, spiritual, philanthropic aspects of life that give a person character and show a person’s care for the world.
I completely support students who strive for academic perfection, but when it comes at a cost of only doing things that make you look better, I can’t support it. I know most of us have a little overachiever in us. I have it, my wife has it, my kids have it, my students at Mizzou had it, and my Wash U. and SLU students definitely have it too. It’s not a bad thing, but it can be if it’s the whole of your substance. I know I want to find a wholesome balance in life that helps me help others. It’s what God calls us to do…and it’s through this lived discipleship that we show our love for God and each other, not through building our résumés.