College is like that one Marina and the Diamonds song: “TV taught me how to feel/now real life has no appeal.” On TV we are shown hard-partying habits of Greek life, studious habits of nerds, quirky and fun college romances and roommates who are sociopathic serial killers. After all of that, the real thing seems like a total waste of potential. Why even go to college?
“High School Musical” did for high school what these shows did for college. It gave us an idealized version of something ordinary. It’d be a lie to say “HSM” was a life-altering experience, but it’d also be a lie to say that it was a completely fake, totally useless movie. Did everybody spontaneously start singing in cafeterias? No. Did we want to? Yes.
As an incoming freshman, the past few months have been about nothing but college — roommate assignments, testing requirements, gaining credit, financial aid, campus visits, registration, orientation, scholarship applications — it all makes me a little sick of hearing about it. As in, constant exposure has numbed my sense of excitement to all things quintessentially college. Half of the conversations I have with my parents are about UT. No amount of movies where the protagonist tries to “find herself” on campus — a quest that for some reason did not occur in high school — will make the numbness stop. It’s just too prevalent in my life right now.
And then, later — in an oasis of calm, during brief periods where I don’t have to focus so much on “the future” — I click on UT’s website and flip through its homepage. I check out the current scientific research, what events are currently happening on campus, look into specific colleges and major requirements and get excited all over again.
I visited campus last year and my tour guide, a junior named Jeff, thought it’d be a good idea to take us through Gregory Gymnasium, which completely blew my mind.
“So Matthew McConaughey really trained here?”
“And so did Ryan Gosling?”
“Is there any chance either of them are ever coming back?”
“I don’t know, maybe? Let’s hope so.”
“They should have this UT Alert thing or something, where the entire campus is notified of a celebrity’s location on campus. So we can find them.”
I think that may have set off alarm bells. He squinted at me, probably to figure out if I was a deranged stalker. “No.”
But in all seriousness, it’s good that college is so idealized. I mean, it’s something we’ve been working toward for the past 18 years of our lives. Something has to keep us going through all the mind-numbing paperwork. Those movies gave us motivation to work for it. They showed us the best parts about college — exaggerated, yes, but still the best. What would we do if we hadn’t gotten a couple of fictional, idealized versions? Probably slack off. Our work ethic would die. The fantasy of meeting Ryan Gosling at Gregory Gym would not have been enough to sustain me through college apps. Man cannot live on Ryan Gosling alone.
And in all reality? Even if you get sick of hearing about it, college is going to be the best. My parents met and fell in love in college. My sister had a complete career meltdown and rebuilt it from the ground up in college. My friends have discovered who they are and what they really wanted to get from their schools and switched their majors accordingly. There are just so many good experiences people have in college. It’d be an outrage to call out those movies and TV shows for showing us a “fake college experience.” College is an experience.
In short, do I have unrealistic expectations of college? Yes. I’m still planning on going to Gregory Gym for a glimpse of Gosling (say that 10 times fast). I know the actual experience will be different from how the media portrays it, but I couldn’t be happier about the education I got from those movies and shows. Now I’m looking forward to the real thing.
Huang is a journalism freshman from Lake Orion, Michigan.