Commentary

After PA (Not College)

Lucy Maguire, a four-year Senior, originally wrote this essay for an English class in December 2007. In last week’s paper, Lucy explained why she is not going to college next year. Here in Part Two, Lucy explains what she plans to do after graduation. About a year after I decided that college was not for me, I decided that I wanted to be a conductor. Ever since I was born, I had been given what I needed, and much of what I wanted, without any effort and without any sacrifice on my part. I knew that, if I went to college, and graduated and had a great life after that, I would never feel that I had gotten it myself. It gave me a lingering sense of guilt, and I hated the idea that I had always been handed everything on a silver platter. I knew I would be happier, even in a quiet life, if I felt that it was my own; that I had created it for myself and had to work for it. It sounds insane, I am sure, but I knew that by deliberately putting myself at a disadvantage, I could be at ease with however I ended up. Of course, I was also 15, and I won’t pretend that rebellion played no part in my decision. After listening to so many countless kids telling me how they did certain things, they got certain grades, they acted certain ways “for college,” there was no way I was going to let this “college” character push me around and tell me what to do. I wanted not just to refuse to conform, but to prove that sticking with the societal norms was not necessary; that it was possible to be successful, even to be happy, without doing going to college. I needed to do things my own way, and whether it worked, or crashed and burned, I would be happier that way than if I had succumbed to convention. I wanted, too, to understand the feeling of genuine risk, of truly going out on a limb without a safety net, and having to keep myself alive. I suppose this is the part where you send me to Graham House. So I’d better change tracks. As it turns out, college is not necessarily the most logical place for a conductor in training to go. There are very few places with undergraduate conducting programs, and even fewer with undergraduate conducting programs to which anyone would actually want to go. The prescribed route, in this case, does not really exist, and so we, essentially, have to feel blindly through the dark for a while until we find our own way. I won’t deny that not knowing exactly what you have to do, but having to somehow do it anyway, is pretty unsettling. I realize more and more, though, that it is exactly where I have wanted to be, since my freshman year when I wanted to rebel and take a risk. Conveniently, the explanation that college isn’t necessarily that helpful if you want to be a conductor satisfies many of the people with whom I would once have had to have “the dreaded conversation” too. So now I have something I can say to appease the seething hordes of Ivy-fanatics; apparently I have taken up some sort of obscure, alternative lifestyle that gets me off the hook college-wise. I don’t know if it’s because they can really see the logic behind my decision; because they have no idea what I’m talking about or because the minute they hear the sentence “I want to be a” come out of my mouthwith any ending other than “Harvard graduate,” they write me off as a lunatic anyway. Whatever it is, it keeps them off my back. Them, of course, but not my college counselor. Not my parents, not my grandparents, and in particular, not a certain rather stubborn great-uncle. It is with those people that the highest stakes lie. If my little experiment should fail, it is these people that will mind the most. If I should go down in a ball of fire, I think I would be satisfied with my attempt. They, on the other hand, would not. And so, I can’t mess up. That’s the only rule. The final reason, at least, the only other one I can think of right now, is that I don’t want to go to college. I have been at PA for about three and a third years, and while I wouldn’t undo that for anything, I’ve just about had it with the institutional life. I live with so many rules, in such an unnatural environment, with somebody else deciding what I have to do at any given time throughout the day. I want to live in the real world, where everybody you talk to isn’t the same age as you. I want to live in the real world, where I can study what I want to learn, at the speed at which I can learn it, at any time I want. I want to live in the real world, where I can have a job, and anonymity, and learn what the real world actually is. Most of all, I want to do one thing all day and every day: music. I’m not refusing to go to college so I can stop studying. I’m refusing to go so I can study more, and so I can study what will be valuable and fascinating to me. I’m refusing to go because I don’t want to waste time drinking a lot with a bunch of other teenagers; I’m refusing to go because I don’t have to. I have dreams that I’m working on and I need to get going. lmaguire@andover.edu