5 June 2004

What I wish my students knew

Jon Stewart gave the commencement address at William and Mary (which I found via Jay). 

When I left William and Mary I was shell-shocked. Because when you’re
in college it’s very clear what you have to do to succeed. And I
imagine here everybody knows exactly the number of credits they needed
to graduate, where they had to buckle down, which introductory
psychology class would pad out the schedule. You knew what you had to
do to get to this college and to graduate from it. But the unfortunate,
yet truly exciting thing about your life, is that there is no core
curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and
the results uncertain. And it can be maddening to those that go here,
especially here, because your strength has always been achievement. So
if there’s any real advice I can give you it’s this.

College is something you complete. Life is something you experience. So
don’t worry about your grade, or the results or success. Success is
defined in myriad ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer
be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of
decency which I imagine, after going through the program here, is quite
strong…although I’m sure downloading illegal files…but, nah, that’s a
different story.

Love what you do. Get good at it. Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age. And let the chips fall where they may.

I wish that I could convey this to my students.  No amount of
demonstration or explanations seems to convince them otherwise than
that they will be tested and graded on life itself.

Posted in IvoryTower on 5 June 2004 at 7:01 pm by Nate

Hooking up and dating

Last week’s NYT Magazine had this article about the teenage culture of dating and sex.

An interesting quote:

…And while gay high-school boys frequently advertise that they
”don’t do hookups” and are only looking for relationships, fewer
straight teenagers make that claim — and many make it clear that
they’re looking for anything but commitment.

”Straight teens have abandoned the rituals of dating, while
gay teens have taken them on,” says Peter Ian Cummings, the editor of
XY, a national magazine for young gay men. The Internet, Cummings says,
has made it possible for heterosexual teenagers to act the way ”most
of straight society assumes gay men act.”

I think it’s quite interesting that the gay boys are acting in this
way.  It seems that their understanding of the world’s working is
much more realistic than that of the straight teenagers.

The straight teenagers in the article seem to have the attitude that
the culture of hooking up that they have created will last only
temporarily, that once they’re ready to “settle down” that there will
be a mate and a life for them.  But until then, they can have sex
with no consequences.  But I’d contend that they probably do
encounter some consequence, in that they don’t get the chance to do a
lot of learning about relationships while they are forming models of
relationality.  I fear the possibility that these straight kids
won’t be able to find the sorts of relationships they want “when
they’re ready” because they won’t have learned how to find and hold a

In addition there seems to be an element of wanting what you can’t
or aren’t supposed to have.  People in our society aren’t
“supposed to” have lots of random sex, just for the sake of sex, with
no relationality attached to it.  The norm, at least on some
level, is that sex is supposed to somehow go with relationship. 
What these kids are doing is a form of rebellion, like many of forms of
teenage rebellion, but this one may perhaps have long-term relational
consequences, as opposed to dying one’s hair and so forth.

Interestingly, the gay teenagers are “rebelling” in some sense,
also.  The straight people in those teens’ lives tell them that
being gay has dreadful relational consequences (at least if their
upbringin has any similarity to mine).  They’ll live lonely lives,
they’ll never have children, the relationships that they do have will
be unfulfilling, and they will be cut off from “normal” society. 
The normal is abnormal for gay kids, and so they strive for it with all
that they’re worth.  They try to court one another, to go to the
prom, to hold hands in public.  They want to get married, perhaps
have kids, and die with a person they love.

The delicious irony in all this, is that it’s those who are
supposedly unable to create and sustain stable, productive, socially
useful, perhaps even ethical relationship who offer the better examples
for all.

Posted in OnTheWeb on 5 June 2004 at 4:07 pm by Nate