I’m not a material girl

By Jan Creaser

After being forcefully told by my mother that I at least had to purchase stocking stuffers for everyone this year (that’s 10 people for brunch at my sister’s), I realized I hated Christmas. When I dug a little deeper, I discovered that it wasn’t Christmas I hated, but the self-gratifying materialism that accompanies this holiday and our lives in general. At the core of my discontent sat the intended purpose of my university education-a purpose that has been inflicted upon me by the media, politicians and industry. Some day, I will be expected to shed my student poverty and prowl my way through a jam-packed mall searching for the newest pop-culture crap to satisfy my material urges. Perhaps you hadn’t noticed, but the face of university in the public eye is changing and it isn’t necessarily for our own good.

Once upon a time, university was a place of learning for the rich; a luxury of the upper class to muse over the philosophies of life and the tangibility of science. Now universities are open and provide support for people from all levels of the economic tree to attend. This trend toward education for all is supposed to improve the quality of life for everyone; to enrich the world in which we live by providing input from all viewpoints. Almost any educated person will tell you that the key to breaking down stereotypes, repairing cultural differences and increasing understanding of the world is education. Education, that is, in regards to our ability to think and form opinions on a topic based on knowledge and previous experience.

Why, then, are we starting to allow industry to dictate our educational goals? The university is not a technical school or college because it is meant to foster research abilities and forward thinking. It is not merely a machine to produce people who can perform specific tasks at a certain level of proficiency. If it were, we could all save our money and head over to the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology for a crash course in computer programming. That would get us jobs, but it wouldn’t improve us as intellectual individuals. Still, this is what the general public at large seems to want from us and for us.

They want managers and computer programmers who can already do the job. Wow, if we can think for ourselves, that would be great too! All over campus I hear people moaning about their programs of study and how much they hate them, but they do it because their parents tell them to or because they need a job when they graduate. We’ve all been snowed by the expectations of the industrialized world. I won’t fault anyone for going out and earning a decent wage to support themselves and using their degree to do so. I will call down the person who does it and fails to realize that life is not just about being able to buy a big screen TV and hi-fi stereo system.

Unfortunately, this is where some of you are headed; to a life of comfort, obscene numbers of modern toys and no clue about the great successes and tragedies of life-and you are supposed to be the educated people of the world. You are the ones who are supposed to question the status quo and try to change it to make life better for everyone. Instead, many of you appear to be quite comfortable with the status quo and are willing to work 20 hours a day calculating someone else’s finances to maintain it.

I’ve tried to be open-minded. I’ve tried to ignore the vast majority of robot-like clones who pepper the campus with their innocuous designer labels and straight-out-of-Hollywood hairstyles. I was unable to ignore the exciting conversations about how Brian, newly graduated at 21, landed that $60,000 a year job and how, tragically, Jennifer’s parents won’t let her drive the Acura anymore. And, to be quite honest, the new gossip on Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow really doesn’t affect my life either way. To put it bluntly, some of you couldn’t hit the broad side of the educational barn if you tried. You’ve missed the point completely.

Sure, we all want jobs when we graduate and we don’t want to be underpaid for our qualifications. That’s not what I’m asking of you. However, if your only goal in life is

to buy every non-essential toy the mass media tells you to, then you don’t need to be here. I can also tell you from personal experience that it’s boring, unfulfilling and selfish. I’m not asking you to give up everything comfy and cozy in life, but I would like to see the notion of university as the stepladder to individual wealth challenged. Instead, it should be viewed as the basis for lifelong learning.

To combat getting caught in the modern quest for exceptionally comfortable living, I suggest you take a thought-inspiring option outside of your degree program. I know sometimes you are limited to paint-by-numbers biology and rocks for jocks as science options, but dig a little deeper into the humanities, social sciences and fine arts. Take a course worthy of your intellect, something that makes your blood boil and your mind zing.

Most importantly, stop worrying about boosting your grade point average and start using your cerebral cortex to think. That’s why it’s there. You’ll be a better person. You may still want the comfortable lifestyle, but, who knows, maybe you’ll only buy the 20″ TV instead of the home theatre leaving more room in your life to think, ruminate, ponder…

Jan Creaser can be reached at jicrease@ucalgary.ca.

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