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Who, if not we?

May 3rd, 2012

Presently, we are at a very tense juncture in time. The end of the scholastic year is here and the seniors, our friends, are graduating in just over two weeks. Without a doubt, they have learned a lot throughout their 21 years, however short of a period that seems to some.

The over-used advice about college tells us that these years are few and are going to be the best of  our lives. The moments we remember aren’t going to be the ones spent studying or in classrooms. The true learning happens in times spent interacting with the real world. While all of these are most likely true, there seems to be a theme among these that is antiestablishment and opposes the structure of college.

My views notoriously call for the overhauling of our societal system. But, over the past few weeks, as I’ve reflected on the departure of the class of 2012 and my own, quickly approaching collegiate mortality, I’ve come to realize the necessity of the unifying aspect of a university.

I’ve spent three years with the current graduating class, obviously longer than any other before it. The closest relationships have been built from the exuberance and hardships of distance running via the JCU cross country and track teams.

Last autumn, the cross country team was of a skill level not approached in years. With this ability came lofty goals, unachievable without the collective effort of every runner. As we prepared for the conference and regional championships, hearing the final, inspirational words of the team’s seniors moved many of us close to tears.

Toeing the line for a race, a runner typically tries to clear the mind of everything to remove the influence of any conceivable negativity and unharness raw potential effort: a very individual and introverted action. Yet, the atmosphere prefacing these events was of something greater than the self. This sense is analogous to the hundreds of miles through treacherous waters which salmon swim during spawning season. They do this together for the continuation of their species.

This feeling was refreshed  before the 10,000 meter run at the OAC Championships this weekend. Before approaching the line, two juniors and two seniors huddled together, and the eldest reminded the others that when the going gets tough, to have fun; that’s why we run.

About 800 meters into the 5,000 meter race the following day, I was instructed to take the lead to help my teammates run faster. Their abilities, being better than mine, I expended all the pep left if my legs as the three of us held the top three positions, until my legs were spent a mile later. Despite my poor-resulting finish, in the end I can’t remember having more fun on the track.

In the past I have written about the freedom of simplicity and nothingness. Rabbi and philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Freedom presupposes the capacity for sacrifice. Man’s true fulfillment cannot be reached by the isolated individual, and his true good depends on communion with, and participation in, that which transcends him.” The realizations I have had from the culmination of my running seasons and my friends’ college careers have altered my perspective. The things we do are not glorious or fulfilling because of the actions themselves, but rather because of those with whom they are shared.

Many of the most rewarding experience we have are bad ideas. Drinking too much, acting like an idiot and eating terrible food the following morning are all bad ideas. By themselves, they ruin the body and the reputation. Most normal people probably wouldn’t do these things alone. When one is with a group of friends, though, and later recounts the experiences, the camaraderie transcends rationality.

Famous recluse, Christopher McCandless, who abandoned his family and possessions to experience his idea of ultimate freedom by living alone in nature, is shown writing, “Happiness is not real unless shared,” as he is close to death in a film about his experiences. One can do many things alone. Knowledge, art, literature, adventure and normally unfulfilling experiences are greatly enhanced when one is sharing them with others.

There is a lot about college that many of us are not happy about. Without those with whom to share the misery, complaints and, at times, tears, this discontentment would be intolerable. Something that mustn’t be forgotten is that college brought us all together, through better and worse. The roughness caused by assignments and loss of motivation can distract us from the collective of people and experiences of which we are a part.

Without the tribulations, we would not reap rewards of their binding properties. Revel in them and the recognition that they’ve brought to you the most intimate, consistent and continuous string of paradoxical rewards you might experience for quite some time.

You are part of something bigger. Not necessarily a collective goal, but, indubitably, a collaborative sense of transcendent being.