The other night I had a dream.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the one where I am flying a World War I-era biplane and dueling with the Red Baron for control of the sky.
This one was really ridiculous.
For some reason I was sitting alone in a classroom in Marillac Hall. The lights were dimmed and there was a cool breeze coming in from the open windows. Suddenly, and without any warning, our university president, the Rev. Donald J. Harrington C.M., walked into the room and sat down next to me.
“Albert my boy, I want to ask you a question,” Fr. Harrington said to me in this most vivid of dreams. “What have you learned over your past four years at St. John’s University?”
I gazed back at him thoughtfully, rubbed my stubbly chin, and then responded with what would undeniably be considered the most articulate speech ever.
And then I woke up.
After several attempts at falling back asleep proved fruitless, I sat down and began to write what I would have surely said had my reverie not been cut short.
The first thing I would have mentioned was that the spell check on Microsoft Word often underlines Harrington and looks to replace it with the word “herringbone.” It’s an interesting tidbit that I am sure he would have liked to know.
From there I would have mentioned how St. John’s has changed me from being a discontented, contemptuous student who hated being here, into an appreciative, enthusiastic member of the community who has recognized the obvious strides being made at the university.
As students we petitioned the school for (among other things) more activities, a more efficient and appealing University Center, and no more classes in trailers, and the University has delivered or begun to deliver on all of these points.
I have learned that open and honest discussion, especially between open-minded parties, can prove rewarding.
However, being “open-minded” is not something as common as I would like. Over my four years, I have seen prejudice, condescension, apathy, insolence, office politics and total stupidity.
For this I am thankful.
College should not be a shelter from the ugly things of the world, having it serve as a thin buffer with an expiration date serves you infinitely more.
Also, I have noticed a meaningful distinction between members of the St. John’s community, whether it is an administrator, a faculty member, staff person or student.
Some people love their jobs and make it their life’s goal to impart their knowledge and expertise onto those around them in an effort to make daily life just that much more livable.
Others are just looking to collect a paycheck.
After seeing this first hand, I have promised myself never to be a bloodsucking leech like those I have encountered in my time here.
In addition, while I have been working/studying/practically living at the University over these past four years, I have had the opportunity to apply ideas that I have heard in class.
After a lengthy class lecture about management theory and its effects on bureaucracy, I couldn’t help but think of the oft-maligned Student Worker program at St. John’s. The program is a tremendous help to students. They gain the convenience of a paying job on campus, flexibility around class schedules, and work that is often not very strenuous or difficult.
One thing student workers do not have however is an incentive to work hard, and without this incentive many of my peers do slack off tremendously.
I would offer that it is not entirely easy to be content and continually hard working when you have not received a raise in four years and have none to look forward to.
This may not be the case with every student worker in every department, but it is my understanding that the majority is stuck at $7.60 an hour and have no incentive to better their work output, or for that manner, fear of losing their job.
My fear in this instance is that those student workers are missing out on many of the important lessons learned in the workplace, lessons that can only be gained through work, and for one reason or another have been surgically removed from our system.
In this way I have found St. John’s to once again be a microcosm for our world. When workers have no fear of losing their job and face the prospect of never moving up the ladder, receiving a raise, or gaining some extra benefit, they will certainly become poor workers.
This brings the entire company/bureaucracy/university down; at least that’s what my textbook told me.
From that, I have learned that you can’t always believe what you read, hear, and even see. I know now that even truth is often subjective and depends on the narrator.
I have seen that above all else, you have to want something and fight for it, because the moment you expect something it will be offered elsewhere.
I now know that education is an endless process and that truly smart people are only that way because they admit that they do not know everything.
But with all the cores, electives, and major requirements, the greatest lesson learned in my four years was found on one page of an English textbook.
With a gentle nod towards Emerson’s direction in the stars I repeat the phrase that changed my life upon reading it.
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
And that’s what I have learned.