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Is college all about the degree?

Illustration by Earl Larrabee
By Matt Stone
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
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This is a column about screaming your lungs out as UA football destroys ASU, jumping into the Old Main fountain mid-afternoon because it's hot in August (and September and October and November), rocking McKale as Salim sinks another NBA-range three, getting the chills when the marching band plays "Bear Down, Arizona," watching UA softball coach Mike Candrea lead the U.S. Olympic team to the gold, tailgating our hearts out for Homecoming and relaxing in Mexico for Spring Break.

This is the UA. This is real. This is fun.

If there were a "right" college experience, it would have to entail these events. It would have to be more than studying and eating pizza with those engineering students next door who only seem to have time for studying and pizza and "Family Guy."

The "right" experience would be something else altogether. It would consist of beer-pong parties, bring-your-own-meat BBQs and motorized couches. There would be time for debating philosophy and current affairs in a Manuel T. Pacheco Integrated Learning Center study room at 3 a.m. There would be time for smoking cigars on the back porch, eating leftover Chinese for breakfast and sipping margaritas after a long day. There would be time for a game of pick-up basketball and an all-night study marathon at Coffee X-Change. There would be time for sleep.

There wouldn't be time for 8 a.m. classes.

College is, above all, about academics. And that message gets lost in the buzz of social life. But for those undergrads coming straight from a family home/high school environment, college is also about learning balance: maximum fun, given the necessary amount of study time. With a graduation rate of 55 percent, the UA still has plenty to learn about balance.

All academics all the time? No.

All partying all the time? No.

Academics give us a sense of purpose, a feeling that our lives are aimed toward bettering the world, toward some greater good. Social life gives us the opportunity to let go, to be young and foolish, to give the world that expects so much from us one big middle finger. These absolutes are unsustainable; embrace a compromise.

Live impetuously. Recognize the world for the playground it is - a playground sometimes soiled by boring and caustic people, sometimes aided by purposefulness and ambition.

Don't lose sight of a goal - preferably, graduation.

Don't be so self-important that you forget how to have fun. Don't be so self-deprecating that you forget how to succeed. In the meantime, wear ridiculously large sunglasses.

Study abroad. Get involved. Talk to professors. Read the Wildcat. Eat when hungry. Sleep when tired. Do something rash: fly to Honduras to volunteer; learn how to dance capoeira; talk to the Hare Krishnas singing on the Mall; join a club; start a club; eat sushi; learn Turkish.

Matt Stone

Party hard.

Study harder.

College is a lifestyle experience - more so than a purely academic experience. Embrace it. College is about reveling in 35,000-strong obscurity, taking classes completely outside one's major, meeting people who grew up in Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and Japan, discussing cosmology with Psych majors and eating Ethiopian food with friends. College is about getting your ass in and out in four or five or six years. College is about reciprocity: showing professors the respect that they show us by showing up to class and listening and participating and (God forbid!) learning.

College is about love - the love of the mind and heart and passion and friends.

And in the end, college is not about the degree. It cannot be about the degree. The degree is a piece of paper, an exercise in signaling to an employer: "Hey! I was crazy enough to spend a handful of years learning how to think. I'm broke. I'm tired. I still have 10 summers left in me. But I need to make money. Please give me a job." In Moscow, a degree can be bought for $25 in a metro station. The degree is not the point here.

For the real point, start from the top.

- Matt Stone is an international studies and economics junior and, like his father, will never let go of this thing we call "college." He can be reached at

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