What a time to be alive.
You’ve survived midterms, can quote “The Nicomachean Ethics,” given Mock Rock everything you’ve got, shared a lunch table with Dr. Arnn, and played Thatcherball. Yes, you are a full-fledged Hillsdalian. But even if you know your way around campus backwards and forwards, it means absolutely nothing unless you write about it.
I’m not suggesting you adopt a dorky Roman pseudonym — nothing like Publius Decius Mus — and splash your opinions all over the pages of the Collegian. Unless you are Todd Beamer himself risen out of the Pennsylvania soil, few people will care when you say, “Let’s roll.” We have our own stories down here, no need to steal other people’s lives.
Like, I just remembered the time I met President George W. Bush. It was December of 2008 and he was a lame duck. For reasons still unclear to me, my elementary school was invited to sing Christmas carols at the White House Christmas party — a rare honor, they say.
But when we arrived, the scene was a farce.
White House staff jammed the Heights School boys choir — some 50 strong — in a downstairs closet with only a jug of lemonade and a plate of sugar cookies to keep us company. We were told to wait for when the president was ready to receive us. Until then, it was Lord of the Flies.
We fought over everything: the cookies, the lemonade, and of course the napkins stamped with the White House seal. And as our squirming bodies skyrocketed the closet’s temperature, our armpits — sweating under white shirts, red ties, and blue Nautica jackets — made the place smell like a locker room floor.
But finally, finally, Bush was ready to meet us. We tramped out in a single file line and one-by-one we shook W.’s hand. Then we sang, poorly.
In the years following, hardly anyone at school talked about it. Why would we? We sweated for a couple hours in the White House. Chuck Colson did that every day — and he went to prison!
What we did talk about (and what really ended up mattering) was the time we raced down Wisconsin Avenue at 4:00 a.m. Or all those times we smoked cigarettes in the woods before school. The time my brother got in trouble for chasing a barefoot kid around Olympia, Greece, clapping the poor kid’s shoes together while playing the Spice Girls on his iPhone speakers.
Even now, in college it’s the little stories like these that my friends and I talk about the most. No one else really cares to hear these stories, and that’s alright. We’re here to entertain each other, not change the world.
So write your opinions, but hold your stories more dear. It doesn’t matter if they come off as corny as the first paragraph of this piece (which, yes, I ripped from the “Current Students” page of myhillsdale.edu). If you’re building lasting friendships through speech, being right about the world can wait.
Sometimes when I get dreamy, I think of a group of 40-year-old divorced men all sitting around a bar. It’s open mic night and one of them requests Billy Joel’s “Vienna.” A particularly disgruntled stockbroker takes the mic and wails out that despairing chorus:
“But you know that when the truth is told,
That you can get what you want or you get old.
You’re gonna kick off before you even
Get halfway through.
When will you realize, Vienna waits for you.”
The whole bar joins in his sad song. They’re old and they didn’t get what they want. The best they can do now is to drown their sorrows in song — and they stories they tell themselves to live.
It won’t be long before we run into bad times too; you’d better hope you have a written record of all the good to keep yourself level.
A true American