Spring is here in northeastern Ohio, and with it comes a sense of urgency.
Maybe it's just me. Maybe because this is the shortest season I feel I have only a little time to complete so many things. And with a high school senior in my home, the to-do list, or more aptly, the must-do list keeps getting longer. Students realize it's crunch time -- their last chance to finalize jobs, internships, fellowships, study abroad trips, summer classes and workshops, even plans for summer travel or summer research opportunities. At Oberlin, many professors welcome the chance to take students on field excursions to unearth new discoveries or revisit old ones, or to continue uninterrupted research in their labs. And students have to confirm these plans while finishing up final projects, theses, and other work by the close of the semester.
I was not the most forward-thinking college student. I merely sought a summer of R and R after devoting nine months to full-time study. My university was on a quarter system, so we had six weeks off between Thanksgiving and the new year. I was often fortunate to get a seasonal department store job. This recess from college wasn't like Oberlin's Winter Term, where students are required to create and pursue an educational project of their own interest. Our break was just that: a break.
Do students at Oberlin ever really get a break? Do they have down time? I'm an outsider looking in, but it seems as if there's always something happening here --concerts, lectures, parades, sporting events, plays, recitals, comedy acts, jazz sets, service projects, student forums, conferences, religious meetings, poetry readings...
It is exciting, no doubt, to be part of a community that can afford as well as command the likes of a Joshua Bell, Robert Kuttner, Stevie Wonder, and Yoko Ono -- in one year.
Is it overload, or are Oberlin students just that driven? Does the campus culture dictate or expect involvement simply by offering an abundance of programming? If you aren't one to do much more than focus on your books, does that mean you are a social outsider? How can you not be involved with so much worthwhile activity? How to choose without getting burnt out?
This summer will be the first time that I have not enrolled my children in a camp, a sports program, or a summer study session. Granted, they are older and can manage themselves without much supervision, but it also marks the first time when they will be free of "stuff to do" or places to go. There's a lot to be said for being active and doing something meaningful with one's time and talents. But I'd also like to suggest the value of having the freedom to explore, to do things in a measured way, in your own time and not on someone else's clock. I'm glad for spring, but not the feverish pace it brings.