A Tuesday Intellectual on a Friday Afternoon
I’m a Friday afternoon guy. The undeniable buoyancy in the air, the simultaneous anticipation of things to come paired with an exhaling from the week, and the mutually held good mood that’s passed back and forth between people that only happens on a Friday afternoon. The energy is pure and tangible. It’s not the trite “work hard – play hard” stuff, I am in my early thirties after all. It’s a simple joy in life, a weekly tradition that is experienced by many, but in a tight community like Vanderbilt, it’s something special.
I have been talking with admitted students from all across the country at programs and on campus and I have been struck by the complexity of the decisions they are making right now. It’s east coast/west coast or Nashville, it’s big school with an honors program or Vanderbilt, close to mom and dad or far away, go to the school that my girlfriend/boyfriend will be attending or not? I have to admit that having a front row seat to this developmentally important process is one of the major reasons I love my job. I believe fully that the college decision is your first draft on a full and independent adult life. It doesn’t define you, but it formalizes ever so slightly the person you think you want to become, the people you want to be around, and the experiences you want to shape you. How you go about making that decision is a good first step into adult decision-making. I have heard about college decisions that ended with the fabled “ray of light” theory, where someone wakes up with an unfettered clarity and an intuitive peace about which choice is right. While I don’t mock that this happens to people, whether through meditation or prayer for example, I do think expecting that kind of serendipitous certainty can endlessly taunt many students.
So if you’re one of those who will have to work at your decision, going over pros and cons and debating your options, I offer up this theory: often the best choice is the one that involves the least negative-sum exchanges. What I mean is that in any decision of consequence you often give something to get something. A super high paying job may be what you get, but you will likely have to give much more than 40 hours a week, which ripples outward and impacts your family/social life and potential happiness. Attending a school that’s far away from home may bring a sense of autonomy and “being out on your own” but you may give up the benefits of closeness with your family and close friends. For example, I have found that many admitted students I talk to are choosing between schools that all offer a high level of academic horsepower, but very different community dynamics. At Vanderbilt, we feel comfortable putting our classroom experience up against any University (but we’re biased). What I have come to understand in my three years here though is that this highly intellectual community maintains such a high level of livability for many Vanderbilt students.
To me, Vanderbilt offers Tuesday morning academics in a setting that feels like a Friday afternoon. I reject that if a student wants an elite academic experience that they have to put up with a community that is cut-throat and staid. I suppose that is why I feel so at home at Vanderbilt. Everyday I meet students who are so diverse in their backgrounds, so interesting as people and at the same time, are some of the top intellects in the country. I rationalize that you can chalk this balance up to Nashville as a backdrop for Vandy. It’s a progressive and youthful city for sure, but has a famously laid back vibe. Perhaps it’s the weather? The professors? Ultimately, whatever the source, it sets the scene nicely for students to not have to make concessions in their decisions, at least not when it comes to the nexus of academics and community. Being close to your family or your significant other? You’re on own with that one.