From a Quiet Locker Room to the Crowded Field
I remember being nine years old watching the Orange bowl game between Notre Dame and their bitter rivals, Miami. I learned an important lesson that day – not from the game, but from the coach of Notre Dame, Lou Holtz. Amid the cheers, sportscasters ranting, and the excitement which seem to resonate throughout our house as if we were in the stadium, the camera’s cut to the Notre Dame locker room. Because I was so young, I didn’t have a lot of experience of what locker rooms looked like, but I knew this locker room was different. This locker room looked much more like a sanctuary. Players were quietly kneeling on one knee, helmets in their hands, many looking down as if they were praying. Undoubtedly some were. Not three seconds of this scene passed when what appeared to be a lightening bolt came into the room in the form of Lou Holtz. Calm but intense, Lou addressed his players, “Men, we know what we are here to do today. It’s what we’ve done all season – we are here to win. But there are those in the media, the talking heads who say that we aren’t good enough. They say that our defense isn’t strong enough. They say that Miami will break through our offensive line and shut down our passing game. They say that Miami is simply too good for Notre Dame this year.”
Holtz paused as if words couldn’t possible express his disappointment. Then he continued, this time more intense, purposefully leaning forward as he spoke, “Men, they can say what they want now. But, what are they gonna say when they are crouched down on the line, staring into your eyes, and they see the determination of a champion. What are they gonna say when they first feel you hit them. You hit them hard, with everything you got. You won’t stop. You haven’t stopped since practice began this season, and you won’t quit now.” Mesmerized, the players were silently looking back at Lou Holtz as if their life depended on it. He ended as calmly as he began, “Let’s go get ’em”. The player stood to their feet, put their golden helmets in the air in a sign of unity and cheered. The players trotted down the stairs toward the field, each one tapping this sign:
In April 2011, the Panetta Institute surveyed college students on the “American Dream” and the economy. Three out of five students believe that achieving the American Dream will be more difficult for their generation than their parents. And, nearly half of students believe that the country is still heading in the wrong direction. While different statistics illuminate different details, my inclination is that now many, if not most, college students feel vulnerable and helpless in a world that changes directions with the wind. If there was a “right answer” to how college students should approach life, they would pursue it – but sadly, life is not so black and white and no generation has ever lived in a world like this one.
I should probably let you know why I care about this? Let me tell you my story. I entered a community college 17 years ago right out of college. I had no idea what I wanted to major in, and quite frankly, I wasn’t actually sure I wanted to go to college. I floated un-impressingly through two years of school taking the basic prerequisite classes because – well, that’s what everyone else did. However, as I entered the university system I had a change of heart. I don’t know if it was a moment of courage or I was sick of avoiding the unavoidable, I changed my major from psychology to philosophy. Engineers and computer programmers of the world will never know the hell of being asked, “So, what are you going to do with that degree?” question a thousand times. I would always answer them with an air of arrogance, “I’m going to take over the world, of course.” Hey, it’s not the best response, but it got them off my back.
From a Quiet Classroom to the Crowded World
I hated to admit it, but the reason their question was so bothersome was because it was the same question I refused to think about. Obviously, I had no idea what I was going to do with a philosophy degree. I just knew that I never liked math, science was boring to me, but for some reason talking about ethics or epistemology was thrilling and it related to life in a way that actually helped me understand the world around me. It’s just the way my mind works, I can’t help it. After I graduated, I did what most serious philosophy students do: I entered graduate school. Not only would it buy me a few more years to figure out what I would do – but I thought that having an advanced degree would help me get a job. It didn’t work – and it certainly wasn’t worth the $60,000.00 price tag either. I did it because I felt stuck.
Moving from a quiet locker room to a crowded field is not that different from moving from the classroom to the “real world”. Maybe you feel stuck, or maybe you are not happy with the path you have chosen. It may be that you are just getting out of college with a degree that your parents, or those around you expected you to get – but, it’s not really your passion. I wish I had a chance to talk with you. However, remember this – You are the best thing that you can bring to this world. You are valuable and needed here. No one is ever a number. And, you are worth infinitely more than your GPA, your diploma, your education, or the job that you get. Your first homework assignment: Don’t ever forget this.