Lost in meritocracy
Rapper Kanye West mentioned in his "Lil Jimmy Skit" on the "College Dropout" album that his father passed away and left him with all of the academic degrees that he earned, joking that he was so obsessed with getting degrees that he stole his son's as well. "I'm gonna learn too, I'm gonna get super smart so that I to can die without … I won't have any money. But I'll be the smartest dead guy," he said.
Now, now Mr. West, we obviously know that the higher the degree we earn, the more significant our salary potential will be. Consider the statistics that show that college graduates earn an average of $20,000 more per year than those with a high school diploma or GED, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. A master's earns $8,949 more annually than a bachelor's degree in philosophy, $11,232 more in chemistry and $16,103 more in economics.
Aside from what our degrees will earn us in dollars, does college really make us smarter? Most of us are very aware of the screeching cries in residence halls when a student finds out that she failed her organic chemistry final exam or the constant blabbering we face from a student who received an NP on his fourth "Expository Writing" paper. Isn't our grade point average just a number that hangs lazily under our names on a transcript? Does our GPA truly reflect how smart or mentally capable we are? I would probably be much more intelligent if I was locked in a Barnes & Noble for a year, enjoying all the books I'd like to read rather than coming to college (provided that the Starbucks is fully stocked). As Walter Kirn described in his memoir "Lost in the Meritocracy," "the temple of higher learning he expected [at Princeton] was instead just another arena … of kissing-up, cramming, and competition." Are we really lost in the meritocracy of the University? Did Mark Zuckerberg, the college student who dropped out of school and became a multi-billionaire by starting Facebook need meritocracy? How about Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and one of the world's richest men, who dropped out of college in his sophomore year. Let's not forget Steve Jobs, who has a net worth of $5.5 billion but dropped out of Reed College in Portland, Ore., after just one semester.
The aforementioned individuals did not need a college degree to become successful or enhance their academic abilities. They had the motivation and discipline to focus on their goals and to accomplish them. I believe the same holds true for a wide percentage of students here at the University. But if college does not necessarily make you smarter, then why attend college at all? Why not venture into the real world and found your own company potentially making millions or even billions of dollars like Zuckerburg?
These entrepreneurs had a brilliant idea that revolutionized the world, along with a highly practiced skill in their respective fields that made the option of dropping out of college worthwhile for them. Attending college for the rest of us does have many benefits, one being the option for us to explore our talents before deciding on a career. As author Tucker Max writes in "Assholes Finish First," "The biggest difference between school and work is not free time, not responsibility, not money, not even access to college bars and parties. The biggest difference is hope." He goes on to say that no matter how hard classes or exams might get, students know that college is eventually going to end and that we can go on to do something different.
I came into college with aspirations of going to medical school to become a cardiologist, but soon found science courses to be dull and uninteresting. I then sought anthropology, business and economics. After two years of switching majors, I realized that my passion lies in writing. I cannot imagine how miserable I would be if I went straight into medical school and not had the previous two years to explore my strengths. College also gave me the opportunity to participate in activities that better honed my skills as a leader and helped me to strengthen my characteristics as an individual. Where else can someone be a president of an organization, journalist, politician, researcher, etc. while simultaneously balancing academics? College gives us the ability to participate in so many diverse activities and explore various perspectives of life that it would make the most ambitious polymath envious.
Aside from helping to discover who we truly are, college gives us a lesson that would take several years to gain in the real-world discipline. Gates did not just wake up his sophomore year with a revelation and decide to pursue computer programming. He had been doing it ever since he attended Lakeside School in the eighth grade. He had the discipline to sit on a computer for more than 10,000 hours until he mastered the subject. The same holds true for Zuckerburg. These individuals possessed discipline well before college and at an age earlier than that of their peers. Jobs still audited classes at Reed College even after he dropped out of school. He later stated, "If I had never dropped in on that single [calligraphy] course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts." Perhaps the idea of college is not to make us smarter, but rather to discipline us so we can independently handle any problem thrown our way in life.
Essentially, meritocracy exists so we can simply learn to learn — a practical skill we will carry with us to our dying day. College might be a formal institution of higher learning for only a limited time, but the values it instills in its students are priceless. College is just the beginning. We are given freedom to explore our talents, the discipline to work tirelessly through a problem and most importantly, the ability to learn efficiently throughout our lives. Our university is one of the best places to start our journey into the real world — let's take advantage of all the rich and diverse opportunities that Old Queens has to offer.
Amit Jani is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies. His column, "The Fourth Estate," runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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