Famous last words

J.B. Sivanich

So this is my last column. Yes, all good things must come to an end – maybe even one day “Party in the U.S.A.” will lose its shine… maybe. For my last column, I was thinking about just writing in my typical style, maybe writing one of the few column ideas that I unfortunately didn’t get around to – namely “I think Charles Barkley is my biological father” and “I’m way hotter than Jake Frederick,” but, alas, time is a tricky thing. I eventually decided to pass on some of the small amount of wisdom I gained here over the last four years as a way to compensate for three terms of constant, vapid self-promotion.
I was thinking about making this into a graduation speech-type thing, but I was a little weary of that. Call me crazy, but I think it’s a little presumptuous to force my thoughts upon a bunch of people who aren’t there just to listen to my thoughts. What I like about reading a column is that if you don’t like it, or think there are too many clichés or overused pop culture references, you can just put it down – unless you are one of my close friends and then you are required to read it or risk a serious round of guilt-tripping. I guess I’m just not one of those people who treats every public event like it’s their third grade birthday party – Brad Camp, I’m looking at you.
I also had some bad experiences with graduation speeches. I went to my sister’s high school graduation last year, and the president of her National Honor Society spoke. He was giving a gym-house of over 2,000 people life advice. It was pretty typical stuff: He used a metaphor about life being like a balloon, but it failed like the Hindenburg. When he started telling us that we should “be curious in life,” I thought of all of the implications that come with being the President of the National Honor Society: endless studying – even in classes that you don’t care about – and no parties.
Then I identified the main problem I had with this kid’s speech: it’s pretty contradictory to tell a room full of adults to “be curious in life” when you’ve never even tasted a PBR. No, I’m not suggesting that there is a correlation between PBR and wisdom, because there are many examples to the contrary – I’m still looking at you, Brad Camp. But I would feel comfortable saying PBR is one of our culture’s acts of initiation – one of the first unguided steps on the road of wisdom, if you will.
And to be honest, I’ve never felt particularly close to my senior class, for whatever odd reason, though there are a few seniors I am fond of – you know what I’m going to say: Brad Camp – so I think maybe the best way I can use this, my final column, is to give advice to those who still have to deal with the Lawrence bubble.
Basically what I have been trying to get across is that is I am aware of the pitfalls of these types of things – clichés, being shamelessly immodest, using too many Lady Gaga references – and that there will be some of those in the following comments, but they’re less my fault than inherent hitches in the medium. So, forgive me. I should also mention that I am definitely one of the fallen, so just because I say something does not mean I don’t make the mistakes as well. Anyway, here is my wisdom.
1. Choose classes based on the professor teaching them. I was told this as a freshman by some wise old seniors, and I think it really smoothened out my academic career here. It’s good advice for Lawrence, because professors have a much larger impact on a class due to small class sizes.
2. Once a term, choose one thing to really invest yourself in; it can be a paper, project, performance, event, hobby or even a relationship. Too often, the distractions at Lawrence – of which there are undoubtedly many – mean the level of all work declines by a little bit. Many people use this as a good excuse to never give something their full effort, so they never have to come to terms with what they can – and cannot – actually achieve. But life is too short to make a consistent and prolonged half-assed attempt at things. Just because a lot of work is boring, doesn’t mean that some of it can’t be enjoyable – and I have found that work usually becomes more enjoyable the harder you try. The personal satisfaction of knowing that you gave it your all is not something to shrug off.
3. The best way to spend time with people is one-on-one. Groups may be fun, but conversations tend to be fairly predictable when there is not a structured objective, like partying. The best thing about one-on-ones is that you never know how they are going to turn out, and nine times out of ten that is a really good thing. It took me three years to figure this out, but the one-on-one Downer dates I’ve had with close friends have made for some of my best memories of this past year – well, that and Bubbles basketball.
My biggest advice ties in with all of this and is directly related to this inimitable place we call Lawrence. The biggest thing that separates Lawrence from the rest of the living situations you most likely will have in your life is the extreme sense of community. Students here work, live, study and party all within three blocks of each other for nine months out of the year: That’s a lot of community.
There are positive and negative aspects of this community dynamic, and the points made in each of these arguments are valid. But too often, people overlook the negative consequences of how communities affect human behavior. To make up for being so preachy, I am going to use examples from my own life of how these behavioral patterns can be negative.
1. Many times, students here think that they can get away with bad behavior in communities in comparison to individuals. They know that because the role they play within in a community is worth less than the role they play when they don’t have large groups of people to hide behind, the consequences they have to face for poor behavior are lower. This article is getting turned in late because I mismanaged my time and took the fact that other people turn in articles late as an excuse to turn mine in late. But on a personal level, it was rude and disrespectful to my editor – sorry, Patrick.
2. People often use the exclusion of others to tighten the bonds of their groups. I’m pretty good at being judgmental – in Lawrence language, that would read, “employing critical thinking” – and I usually make fun of 60 percent of the people in any one of my classes for one thing or another. And I often joke around with my friends at the expense of others, usually in a way that’s pretty harmless, but there is no doubt that, over time, these thought processes have seeped into how I treat other people – to harmful results.
3. Students here often sacrifice their individuality to get along better with their group. I love reading good literature, but I have not picked up a novel for pleasure reading all year. Mainly, that’s because I’ve spent most of my downtime goofing off with my friends, watching Tracy McGrady videos on YouTube. I’m not saying one activity is worth more than the other, but conforming to groups can have its downsides.
The complicated part about these behavioral patterns is that they don’t always have negative, but often have really positive results for the individual and/or the small groups within the community. Many times people are not conscious or aware of negative consequences that these actions have.
The lesson of all this is to be aware that this community is a community comprised of individuals. As old and dumb as it seems, the golden rule – do to others what you would like to be done to you – still has staying power. Being able to see the forest is just as important as being able to see that it is made of trees, because trees are all each one of us is.
So, pay attention and try to develop an awareness of how your behavior changes from the individual to the group level: then try to understand why this is the case, as well as the consequences that these changes have. It will make you a better person and this
community a healthier one.
Okay, that’s all I can muster. That was the most serious I’ve been since I had to convince the editors of this paper to let me have my own column.
Adios, amigos. Sivanich out.