Back to School
By Alli Whalen · May 8, 2008
Bruce Springsteen released the album “Born to Run” in 1975, making him twenty-six years old at the time. I can’t help but wonder if the title track was about a quarter life crisis-induced contemplation of grad school. Ok, The Boss probably didn’t think much about doing his masters while he was burning his back in the Badlands, his version of being born to run involving a rusted Chevrolet, a dirty, white t-shirt, and the girl next door. But we can all relate to having an overwhelming desire to run, to escape from a situation that we find unsettling, awkward, or unsatisfying. In my case, the great escape was to the safe haven of grad school, and I’m not the only one.
Whether backpacking in Europe, going to teacher’s college, ESL tutoring in Asia, attending graduate school, or playing “Legend of Zelda” in your parents’ basement, most of us go through a period of dazed, free-floating time before, during, or immediately after college, when we aren’t quite sure what to do with ourselves. By free-floating, I don’t mean that we aren’t tied down by various commitments, but that we do not necessarily attach ourselves to anything that requires a long-term contribution or responsibility. Instead, we tend to take on activities that stimulate us moderately, but that wouldn’t hold us over for longer than a few years (even you will get off that couch one day, Zelda). This time allows us to gain skills and experience while we try to figure out what we want to spend the rest of our lives doing, a daunting task indeed (or an elaborate way of procrastinating).
Graduate school, as it turns out, is one of the ultimate ways to form the above-mentioned skills and experience if you haven’t quite put your finger on your particular niche in the world. The student status provides refuge in a structure you know like the back of your hand: the familiar, simultaneously freeing and restrictive institution we call school. It’s a respectable and welcoming place to be; you’ll leave with a sharpened mind, enhanced writing and research skills, and another fancy piece of paper with your name on it to throw on the wall. But even aside from these benefits, there are other reasons to throw oneself into the academic world…again.
I remember the point at which I felt I had finally found my calling: I was sitting in the school pub with some other students to work on a group project. Being with classmates I was friendly with, I confessed to not understanding some of the terms other students threw around so confidently in class. Within five minutes, we were coherently discussing the meaning of post-modernism and neo-liberalism; within an hour, we had moved from critical theory to mulling over our favourite songs and a shared love of music, clanging our pints down on the table in agreement with another and easing into the comfort of the evening, brains buzzing not from the beer (ok, maybe a little), but from the thrill of feeling that we had finally arrived, finally achieved a point at which we felt ourselves growing into young, intelligent and confident adults who were going somewhere, making a difference, and enjoying ourselves in the process. We belonged, and it felt good.