I had two significant online conversations last night (significant meaning I cared and they were longer than 10 lines): one with Araba, and one with Jackson. Both were on the same subject.
I told Araba that "Mrs. Dobson is haunting me". If you weren't in AP French or AP Fizz, you wouldn't understand. She would come in the room with a visitor and point to everyone around the room: "Arielle is going to Brown, Miguel is going to Stanford, Sally's going to Princeton, Araba's off to Harvard, Matthew's..., Sherwin's going to Yale..."
It was like that every fucking time. She could not deal with the fact that I was going to Clemson. I don't know why; I wasn't in the top ten or anything. Perhaps it was because of the people I was always contrasted with by taking advanced classes. Whatever it was, she could not deal with the fact that I was just going to Clemson.
Anyway. I dunno. I figured that for an undergraduate program, it didn't really matter where I went, right? Multivariable calculus is pretty universal, and so is physics. For undergrad courses, I would get the same education at any reasonably accredited institution.
And I'm probably still right. But what I didn't think about was the people who I would be surrounded with, shaping my education in ways outside the classroom. As I note in the excerpt below from my and Jackson's chat (which is released under the Creative Commons 2.0 License), I miss being surrounded by people who have this insatiable urge for progress. I miss people who write poetry for the sake of writing poetry, who prove odd theorems for the hell of it, people who are researching a topic on wikipedia before you can finish the prompting sentence, and people who can't put down their cameras until they've stuffed their memory cards to the brink with photos to sift through. I miss people who strive for self-betterment, and who are passionate about their passions. Perhaps I simply miss people who have passion, in general. As Jackson notes, it is "the undeniable truth that mediocrity vastly outnumbers drive and unique ability."
Maybe it isn't better in other places, and to be honest, it isn't that bad here. Seriously, don't get me wrong; I really do love Clemson. It's just that key cultural aspect that I sorely, sorely miss.
Maybe it isn't, but maybe it is.
Hmm. Please comment.
=== Conversation Excerpt ===
me: We actually have a pretty low smoking rate, actually.
marijuana, that is.
about 15% I think.
although our drinking rates are absurd.
15% regular smokers, that is.
jackson.holder: I mean, I know. The WW kids might run around in a fog, but all you high achievers are gonna experience fatal liver failure at 28.
me: High Achievers?
Man, Jackson. Let me tell you.
I love it here.
But I am, occasionally,
Slapping myself pretty hard for not reaching higher.
I dunno. I dunno what to think about it anymore.
jackson.holder: hate to say you should have applied to MIT. Fortunately I don't have to, because I already did like 40 times.
me: Hate to say I wouldn't have made it into MIT. But it does stand to reason that I could have made it into Duke, or Davidson, or Yale, or something.
Maybe Emory, I dunno.
Maybe even Brown.
I guess I'll never know.
jackson.holder: not necessarily true.
If you feel strongly about it you can always apply.
me: I don't feel strongly about it.
It just lingers in the back of my mind, and pokes me occasionally.
jackson.holder: well then yes I suppose it is pretty late.
yeah it'll do that.
I know what you mean exactly.
me: I think the reason it's bothering me isn't the school so much as the people.
I mean.... I guess I was incredibly lucky with my friends.
People from all sides of my life in Charleston were esoteric poets and adventurous intellects.
Almost everyone had some sort of fervor in a particular field or subject, and loved what they did.
My magnet friends and my SOA friends.
me: And it seems like most people here are just sorta mreh.
jackson.holder: and now you are faced with the undeniable truth that mediocrity vastly outnumbers drive and unique ability.
that very few people get the education you did, or got to experience the culture you experienced
jackson.holder: and that without the drive that a place like charleston and a community like ours provides, many people understand life to be a simple trial and reward system. A little work, a little alcohol.
me: Depressing indeed. I guess I just need to make sure it doesn't happen to me.
And the people I care about, if possible.
You know, you worded that all very well.
Do you mind if I reproduce it?
jackson.holder: go for it.
me: Under Creative Commons or something?
jackson.holder: just fucking jack it, call it yours, I don't care.
jackson.holder: I've had plenty of time to think about it.
me: Thanks, Jackson.
jackson.holder: it's realizations like this that changed me, matthew.