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The closest I’ve ever been to being a Dead Head is consuming an entire pint of Cherry Garcia in one sitting (an activity that would make me more of a Dead Sex-Life than anything else). Though the mass consumption of munchy foods and the music of the Grateful Dead has been a natural combination since the band’s inception, I realize that there is a distinct culture linked to their following.
Growing up with a father—my very own Dead Head—who followed the Grateful Dead around the country for the greater half of the 1970s, I’ve learned a thing or two about the impact of the band’s bohemian, heady rock (and have come to realize a thing or two about the illicit activities my father must have been up to during that era): an impact that I always equated with my vision of the college experience.
So, envision my befuddlement, when I mention the Grateful Dead one day a few weeks into my first year at Emmanuel College and am met with vacant stares. I believe the initial response was, “What’s that?” In that moment, a straw shattered the back of the collegiate camel within my mind. Inhibiting a violent up-chuck reflex. I was suddenly face to face with an undeniable truth: gagging at people is a great way to not make friends and nothing is ever what it seems. I had spent the greater part of my life anticipating college as this cornerstone of dread-locked white dudes massacring bongos and hairy arm-pitted she-wolves burning their bras in trash cans only to discover that buzz-cuts are a much more practical coif and that Victoria’s Secret bras are way too fricken’ expensive to ignite.
I realize that Emmanuel College is the smallest of scholastic microcosms but—judging from the experiences of my
friends who went elsewhere— college is a changed institution. Where there was once college students challenging national sexual doctrines, there’s now just a lot of noncommittal sex. Where there was once a time when universities gave birth to the world’s next great artists and innovative thinkers, I now come across a lot of “Oh, I’m a business major.” Whereas college was once the nexus of the genuine pursuit of knowledge, it is now a pandemic rite of passage. College has become prom. And the boutonniere will cost you forty-seven thousand dollars.
I can’t help but wonder if college is still as vital as it once was. If an entire generation is doing the same thing, is anything being accomplished? I see my peers with their ombré hair and their “Keep Calm & Carry On/Worship Conventionality/Forsake Originality/Eat a Cupcake” posters and hear Drake’s music permeating from their dorm rooms and wonder what the point of it all is. This current college culture—my college culture—seems to be fighting for only one cause: homogenization. And if the omnipresence of iPhones and infinity scarves is any indication, we’re succeeding.
I still have high hopes for college. Where else will I spend an arm, a leg and a first-born-child taking irrelevant math classes and living in a glorified YMCA? These next four years will surely educate me in the ways of showering in sandals and how to make my own Belgian waffle. I look forward to every lesson learned.
And I meant business about bongos being played out on the quad. I’ll settle for Sister Janet pulling a Maria von Trapp with some smooth acoustic guitar at this point.