Shedding Optimism

Despite his disillusionment, Paul still wears blue and gold to football games. Encourage him at [email protected]


Paul Thornton


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For some, optimism provokes persistence despite abounding failures, in the hope that time itself will bring unrealized success.

On the other hand-mine-optimism is a pest. When we disappoint ourselves or fail to reach a goal, we more often than not point to external factors that may have served as a stumbling block on the path of achieving the good end.

So, if people would put everything in perspective and evaluate their failures accordingly, they would come to that sad realization that the root of all failure and other evil is optimism itself.

Think about it. If during your CalSO orientation or some other welcoming activity a campus figure told you that by the end of your second year your grade point average will be far from your high school mark, that you will be 40 pounds heavier than you were then, and that your hope of graduating with highest honors will be reduced to the hope of graduating in five years, would you really want to sign away five or six years of your life to this place?

Of course not, which is why all incoming students are given abusive doses of optimism. My first chat with a university administrator went something like, "You've been selected from thousands of other outstanding students from across the state to study alongside some of the greatest scholars in the world."

Well, oh great university, in my four semesters here, I've studied alongside a total of four tenured professors. And that's only if your understanding of "studying alongside scholars" includes being crammed in overcrowded lecture halls hoping the professor will come to know of your very existence.

Frankly, it's simple: If you don't set any far-reaching goals, failure won't be so easy.

Sadly, UC Berkeley is inherently conducive to instilling optimism into each incoming student's outlook on college. This place is home to eight Nobel laureates, a beautiful campus, throngs of intelligent students and has an international reputation that'll make most people raise their eyebrows when they learn of your enrollment. Enough glorification-I was beginning to return to the optimistic nubile I was the first time I stepped onto this campus.

Look at it this way: We're the successful ones who did well in high school. Our victory over those who fooled around while claiming we had no lives because we stayed home to study is supposed to be their inability to move on after high school while we ceremoniously leave home with hopes of having a real future.

Disappointingly, at least for me, it's not turning out that way. Whenever I return home to old friends, I find the ones whose terminal degree is a high school diploma are the most pleased with their lives.

What I find in these people is that they are content with what they have and are resigned to the fact they aren't to expect too much out of life. Contrast that with the far-fetched expectations of a great deal of UC Berkeley students, and it's easy to account for the discrepancy in contentment.

This whole talk of a disappointing college career makes me think of how in two or three years I'll look back upon and evaluate my time here. If it doesn't get much better, I'll be strutting my added 40 pounds in the form of a gut across the illustrious stage of the Greek Theater on graduation day in a few years.

Or maybe it will get better. Maybe I will graduate within four years from the time I started here, and maybe I'll even graduate with honors and attend Boalt. It doesn't hurt to hope.

Ah, well, let's not get too optimistic here.

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