Commentary

Why I’m Not Going to College

_Lucy Maguire, a four-year Senior, originally wrote this essay for an English class in December 2007. Next week, a second article by Lucy explains her plans for life after Andover._I am probably the only Phillips Academy Senior for whom this is only the second essay I have written since last June. I’m not going to college. And that brief look of horror that just flitted across your face — what little double take you just did — well, okay, I’ll admit I get a kick out of it. But that’s not why I’m not going. When I first came to Andover, I was surprised at how much emphasis was placed on college. How could there be a whole department of people whose only job was to make sure that every kid in the graduating class had somewhere to go next? To be honest, it sounded a little pathetic — a little like cheating. I had always thought that an application was a description of who you were and the life you led, not an explanation of what you thought the person reading it wanted to see. Weren’t you just supposed to apply with whatever you had and whoever you were, and then let them take it or leave it? Nope. Apparently, an aptitude test is something you should practice for; apparently, awards are not given to you for merit, but for the consideration of some nebulous judge in your future. Apparently, life was to be lived so that you would have something to tell colleges about, not for the sheer joy of living. I asked my roommate, who was in Latin 100, why she was taking it even though she would have preferred Spanish, and she said that it would help her with the vocabulary section on the SATs. I asked a kid who was in orchestra with me why he had signed up for violin lessons that he didn’t enjoy or practice for, and he said he needed more extracurriculars for college. I asked why all the Seniors got so excited about Senior Spring, and was told, like the naïve little girl I was, that it was because they were all in college and didn’t have to work any more. And I didn’t get it. Was that why people worked? Was that why people did sports? Well then, did it stop there? What if people didn’t tell jokes just because they were funny? What if people weren’t nice to me just because they were good people? What if people didn’t smile just because they were happy? So, at age 15, in protest against what I viewed as an unhealthy obsession with college, I decided I was not going to go. My parents, thinking, I suspect, that it would pass, did not try to change my mind. My friends, on the other hand, were shocked. I had to discuss my decision at length with my roommate, my prefects, the girls in my dorm, a kid in my Bio 100 class, the trainers, Mr. Kabanda, Ms. Sachs in the music office and Rusty the Double Brick custodian. And so now, three years later, when I have added at least a hundred more names to add to that list, I have decided at last to properly organize my thoughts on the subject. My gut instinct as a freshman was to question our intense fixation with college; I knew that there must be thousands of people around the world who did not go to college. So, what of them? Did not a single one of them stand any chance of success? I wanted to prove that a college degree was not what made a person intelligent or stupid, good or bad. I believe in the idea that a person who is born to do something, a person at the very extreme of greatness, a world-transforming soul, will achieve great things regardless of the level of education he or she receives or the amount of money he or she may have. And perhaps such a person will even be better prepared by obstacles than by advantages. After all, would Beethoven have written the music he did, had he not gone deaf? So, if I am going to do something truly great with my life, then not going to college will not stop me. And, much more likely, if I am not going to do something great? Then I just want to prove that, in spite of all the talk about “future world leaders,” stellar success cannot be required of Andover graduates. Nobody can stop us from growing up to be, well, regular people, if that’s what we want to be. I want to prove that it is possible to do just that and be happy. After I had decided not to go to college, a lot of people asked me, “Well, why are you at Andover, then?” I was mildly horrified to realize that a lot of people were here just to get ready for college. It seemed that this vague, abstract “college” that (supposedly) loomed in all our futures, was viewed as the ultimate destination, and Andover was just a stepping stone on the way there. I object to this idea primarily because Andover, to me, is very much a destination in its own right. I am here just to be here — to go to school here, to learn what is to be learned here and to meet who is to be met here. I didn’t like the idea that there were kids here who didn’t even like it, who just wanted whatever benefits accompanied an Andover diploma. By deciding not to go to college, I could be sure that I was at Andover just for the sake of it. Ironically, the people who were apparently here just to get into college seemed to be the same ones who were unaware that college, too, would be just another stop enroute to their real lives. Andover was, to them, just an easier way to get to college, but then – what was college? Who gives a thought, anymore, to life beyond it? The days are fast disappearing when children say, “I want to be an astronaut,” “I want to be a writer,” “I want to be an archaeologist.” Instead, increasingly, five-year-olds tell you, “I ?want to go to Princeton.” They can’t tell you why. And so, what if they go to Princeton? What if they go, and they have the time of ?their lives, and then they graduate? What then? Why set college as your ultimate goal, when you could have a dream that is limitless, something to keep your eyes wide and your heart beating for the rest of your life? As my grandfather is so fond of quoting to me (although he can never quite remember who said it), “Life is short, but the art is long, the opportunity fleeting, the experiment perilous, the judgment difficult.” This is my perilous experiment; who knows what the judgment will be, or even how to make it, when I’m through? The opportunity is fleeting indeed, and I don’t have time to waste screwing around in college. As for the art, I suppose we have to wait and see. But life is short, and this one is mine. So for all those of you working on your essays and applying to college right now, I hope you get in, I hope you go, I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you have wonderful lives. In short, I wish you the very best of luck. But I’ll be going some place else. lmaguire@andover.edu