College is Not Necessarily a Paradise for Your Passions

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Jethro Aldo Lee, Editor, Web Manager, Reporter

I want to learn how to play the cello.


The cello’s gorgeously robust and powerful lower register has always enthralled me. I vividly recall the pleasure flowing through my body when hearing the instrument’s graceful legato phrases in the Larghetto movement of Sir Edward Elgar’s Serenade for String Orchestra. As both a violinist and violist, I acknowledge that I may have a minor obsession with learning orchestral instruments. But I cannot deny the beautiful way that music speaks to me as it dances across my ears, striking me with exceptional euphorias. Music is a universal language. A language that I am afraid of losing after high school.


Once I reach college, the activities entailed with becoming a cellist could overwhelm my undergraduate years. These cellist activities may include, but are not limited to, participating in an orchestra, practicing music, going to lessons and joining clubs. Unfortunately, sacrifices would be inevitable.


Many seniors anticipate how they could explore their interests in college. With many more clubs, organizations, classes and programs than high school, most students cannot help but feel inclined to participate in as many activities as they can. But only if students can manage their time wisely would engaging in extracurriculars be beneficial during their development within college.


Taha Ahmad, a senior at Shaker High School, avows that most of his high school experience was wasted doing activities that did not spark jubilance. Hence, he plans to “dedicate more of [his] time to community service” and “rekindle [his] interest in [his] hobbies.” By doing so, he hopes his college experience will be loaded with hours spent doing activities that he legitimately enjoys.


Izzy Cowan, another senior at Shaker, has a plethora of college dreams. She describes that she wants “to continue to play the flute and piano and take lessons with someone for both instruments,” “continue tap and jazz dance and possibly pick back up with Tae Kwon Do or another martial art,” and “try new sports…  such as scuba diving or competitive equestrian riding.” A curious individual, she possesses a wide range of interests that she hopes to scrutinize with her future college’s opportunities. 


Therese Biazon, a pre-med junior student at SUNY Purchase, clearly recalls that she wanted to pursue her interests in “cello, voice and writing” before her freshman year. Like Ahmad and Cowan, she hoped that college would treat her with opportunities to engage with her interests. Biazon wanted to ascertain that she could spend quality time with her affinities while on her arduous path to medical school.


An article by the Washington Post, by Professor Settersten, gives his perspective on the value of non-academic college involvement.  He reasons that “a lot of what college comes down to is not what happens in the classroom.” There is an emotional aspect that needs to be accounted for as well, which involves “navigating life and building relationships.”


Students who live the bare minimum college experience lack exposure to other interests that might help them discern their identity. Rather than finding what makes them unique, these students are content with remaining a dull blade of grass surrounded by many others within a large, barren and lifeless field. 


Some, though, dare to blossom into a flower. 


Biazon challenged herself to do so, despite her laborious pre-med studies, and feels no regret. Taking the risk of double majoring in Creative Writing showered Biazon with unexpected benefits.She became more aware of the bridge between the innovativeness of the liberal arts and the technicality of the sciences. Biazon revealed that she “would not be doing well in school at all right now if not for having creative methods of processing and release outside of [her] science major” since she is “better able to focus in [her] classes when [she] make[s] time to pursue [her] other interests and not center [her] time around one all-encompassing thing.”


Besides, as accentuated by GradGuard, a website dedicated to helping students and their families shield their investment in higher education, participating in extracurriculars comes with many advantages other than the ability to “explor[e] hobbies, passions and interests.” First, doing so “contributes to higher self-esteem.” The satisfaction of choosing to do something because you do it well cannot compare to the satisfaction received when you choose to do something you are passionate about. 


Secondly, as GradGuard outlines, non-scholastic involvement allows more opportunities to socialize and create friendships with people who hold the same interests as you. By talking about what you enjoy, you can “create a community based on what you all do best and create a connection over your mutual passion.” Biazon verifies this statement, relating that “becoming president of [her] school’s Writing Club has caused [her] to make wonderful connections with people.” She provides that she “would feel incredibly misunderstood without having friends who know [she is] beyond [her] science degree.”


GradGuard includes that “extracurricular activities add value to your resume” since the transferable skills you gain from non-academic involvement could potentially prove to be more invaluable than your academic achievements. Active non-academic participation empowers you to stand out from a crowd of applicants. 


You can be a flower in the barren field.


Ultimately, non-academic activities are beneficial in alleviating the inevitable stress of college education. According to the American Psychological Association, “90 percent of [college-age students] reported education as a significant source of stress.” Extracurricular involvement can offer a healthy and constructive way of spending time with your passions.


Ahmad has already planned out how he plans to pursue his interests in college. He knows that he will need to dedicate time in college to earning money to support himself as well. Therefore, he plans to incorporate his wants and needs into one action that would be beneficial both economically and emotionally. He will “try to find a job that is related to [his] passions,” and once he finds a suitable occupation, “[he] will devote [his] free time to further explore [his] interests.” 


Cowan already has a plan as well. Like Ahmad, she plans to incorporate her passions with what would be absolutely required of her to become a successful undergraduate, such as taking classes to attain course credits. Thus, Cowan plans to “pursue [her] passions after high school by committing to a specific class that would cultivate [her] skills” and “take some sort of responsibility or leadership in the hobbies [she is] passionate about.” She mentions that she “might want to teach an instrument as a side job or do some sort of volunteering that involves playing [her] instruments or teaching.”


With the abundance of a college’s non-scholastic offerings, some may feel overwhelmed. However, Adam Weinberg, president of Denison University, urges students to not let that intimidation suppress their natural urge to explore their opportunities, encouraging students to rather “try new things, and be open to, even excited about, reinventing [them]selves a little.” 


There are limits, nevertheless. For instance, according to a 2010 publication of The Harvard Magazine, Harvard student Becky Cooper was immensely involved in her college’s extracurriculars. She was “vice president of the Signet Society, belonged to a female social club, held the post of Dionysus at the Harvard Advocate, planned social events like the literary quarterly spring dinner for 70 attendees, hosted a two-hour weekly jazz show on WHRB and acted in Harvard’s long-running TV soap opera, Ivory Tower, as a freshman.” Even as a flower in a field, Cooper endangered herself to overexertion, wilting herself physically and emotionally. 


Cooper explained that her substantial involvement in her extracurricular interests allowed minimal time for reflection on who she was or what she wanted. She admitted that she felt “scared [she would] work [her]self into a pile of dust if [she didn’t] learn when to stop.” This situation may seem counterintuitive: Exploring your interests can potentially damage your identity? If you get too caught up within your natural curiosities, then evidently, yes. 


Cooper was just one of the many students at Harvard who desired to take advantage of their undergraduate opportunities. Judith H. Kidd, former associate dean for student life and activities, remarked on these students’ drive, observing that “they prefer to be busy all the time, and multitask in ways that [she] could not imagine.” 


The Harvard students’ experiences are what many seniors, like me, fear. As teenagers striving to achieve a successful life, our undergraduate studies will be very important. But even though we recognize their significance, we still long for the freedom to bask in the glories of our affinities and discover what makes us flourish. Cowan, therefore, is committed to “being proactive about scheduling out [her] time [in college].” By doing so, she hopes that she would be left with “gaps to pursue [her] interests and commit to clubs and societies that would help [her] maintain dedication to [her] passions instead of focusing all [her] time on studying for classes.”


Biazon, however, depicts a gloomy reality, for “since becoming a double-major, [she hasn’t] had much time for music at all.” She laments that due to her demanding course load, she “unfortunately had no room in [her] schedule for chorus class.” Biazon did exert effort into fulfilling her musical desires, “join[ing] the campus orchestra for one semester.” Yet, like with chorus class, she later made the tough decision to “not join for longer because [her] schedule filled right up.”


Ahmad already anticipates the inevitable conflict between his academic requirements and extracurricular interests. Unlike Cowan, he carries lower expectations for the amount of time in college that he would be able to dedicate to his passions. He confirms that “for [him], [his] career will always come first,” and “if [he doesn’t] have time for [his] interests because of the workload, [he] will devote time during breaks for them.


Such intricate planning is necessary since overexertion comes at a fatal cost. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “adults ages 18 to 60 years old need to be getting seven or more hours of sleep every night.” Concerningly, however, according to the University of Georgia’s Health Center, “on average, most college students get six to six point nine hours of sleep per night.” 


Cooper confesses that sleep deprivation is the likely cause of her “frequent low-level infections and colds.” She discloses that her dilemma threatens the well-being of many of her peers, admitting that “Harvard kids think of themselves as superheroes.” With greater importance being gradually placed on non-scholastic activities, it is no wonder why many students feel compelled to sacrifice their physical health to participate in as many experiences as possible. 


Furthermore, the volume of extracurricular opportunities that are available to students is also to blame. According to Gardner, within Harvard University “the number of student organizations grew almost sevenfold from 1960 to 2007-08, skyrocketing from 60 groups to 416.” Harvard itself states that today, that amount has risen to “more than 450 student organizations.”


For many, four years are too short to relish a college’s exciting offerings. Biazon argues that “students need more time to explore, more awareness of the opportunities around them and more opportunities in general, as in, more students with the time to start clubs or organizations that don’t currently exist.” When colleges make these circumstances possible, “it will be much easier for students to find themselves during their college years, instead of missing a lot of what’s out there.”


With all of these factors regarding extracurricular engagement in mind, I can only ask for fellow seniors to take care of themselves after high school. It is ultimately up to you to decide how you will make time in college to address your curiosities while keeping a healthy lifestyle. But do not feel compelled to constantly agonize over your choice. Even though the thought of taking our first step into our future college campus appears dreadful, life offers little time to dwell on our fears of where life will take us. To ensure that we are heading in the right direction, we must remember one thing: Listen to both your heart and your mind.


I will consider that before scouring for a D Z Strad to passionately pluck.