If growing up was modeled in a staircase, the stair dedicated to moving out of your parents house would be varying in size depending on who you are. Whether you’re heading into a corporate workplace or attending college, moving out of the family home gives young adults a new and much larger control over their lifestyles. For most college students, freshman year is the first time that they can choose how they spend their time and manage their lives–there is no curfew, and no one enforcing mandatory attendance to classes.
The newfound freedom, however, is accompanied by responsibility for action, and certain levels of maturity are expected by professors and other authority figures interacting with these freshmen. Managing life on your own as a college freshman seems to have unexpected pitfalls, whether it be fitting in time for laundry or planning ahead for the coffee line before your morning class, which is usually pretty long. In a graduation speech by David Foster Wallace, these aspects of life are defined as “banal platitudes,” and how we perceive them for the rest of our adult lives will, for the most part, determine our satisfaction with life. According to Wallace, the value of our college education is not a certificate or the corporate job we have lined up after. The value of our education is awareness, awareness of our ability to choose how to manage and consider the banal platitudes in our lives.
Though Wallace preaches this in a speech of college graduation, our lives during college are not void of banal platitudes either. Universities these days are far from uncomfortable–most campus’ are equipped with fitness centers, pools, cafe’s, bookstores, health services, and little grocery stores (Altschuler). With so much at our disposal, us college students have a lot choices to make regarding our time and, since we’re free from parental guidance, our behaviors. In theory, we all should be healthy and happy, but this is not usually the case. Freshman year is, though dominated by new experiences, also characterized by a decline in health for most students. This has serious implications for later in life, as college students are, according to Cornell academic administrators David Skorton and Glenn Altschuler, “at a critical juncture in development […] they are forming habits that will affect well-being, learning, and personal and career fulfillment over a lifetime” (Altschuler). Our bodies may bounce back now, but poor choices in college can lead to short-term consequences including illness, weight-gain, and exhaustion. If these four years are considered a “threshold to adulthood,” then shouldn’t we all be learning how to live well?
In a way, David Foster Wallace told the graduating class of Kenyon College in 2005 that college education gives them the choice to learn how to live well or one can carry on with life disconnected and unsatisfied, constantly in a state of annoyance and exhaustion. No difference applies for today’s students, who, nicknamed as the “multitasker generation,” are basically over-stretching themselves and putting their health on the back burner. Poor habits such as caffeine-addiction, sleep deprivation, and acceptance or promotion of being in a state of stress wreak havoc on students’ bodies and will most definitely catch up to them later in the professional world–and if you aren’t healthy, perceiving banal platitudes with empathy and patience becomes infinitely harder. In his article entitled “Terms of Empathy,” a freelance medical writer named Thomas S. May explains that the part of our brain that enables empathy is less active when we ourselves are in personal discomfort or stress. College is a time for students to practice life-organization, so that they can avoid this dilemma and make themselves the best they can be.
Even though the American College Association has reported that, health services and facilities in college have steadily improved over the past few decades, mental health has declined among college students. Furthermore, the Journal of Adolescent Health reports that seventy percent of college students get less than eight hours of sleep a night, while the CDC suggests eight to ten hours a night (Schragge, CDC). Both of these factors, as well as altered food and alcohol intake habits, have been postulated to contribute to the infamous “freshman fifteen,” which still holds a strong presence for college freshman. A 2012 study headed by Sareen Gropper, a professor and graduate program director of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at Auburn University, followed several hundred students enrolled at a mid-sized university. Published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, a scholarly scientific journal, the study examined college weight gain and diet, physical activity, and other health-related habits during the final six months of high school and the first semester at college, and concluded that seventy percent of these students gained weight in their first college semester.
This time is so crucial for forming healthy habits that will be continued in adult life, and so much of it is dominated by personal choice–students can choose what they eat, the amount they sleep and work out, and how much they worry. Each of these usually fade into the background of life, similar to doing the dishes or pairing your clean socks; they are, in a way, banal platitudes. How we view keeping ourselves up is completely in our control, just as how we will view the banal platitudes of daily life in the working world. As Wallace told the graduating class of Kenyon College, surviving in the corporate world is very much so intertwined with finding sources of happiness by utilizing choice, and this should be practiced in college as well, because it’s hard to be sick and happy at the same time. When we move out of our parent’s homes, we climb up one more stair toward’s adulthood and are given a platform with more freedom and choices to make.
Altschuler, David Skorton and Glenn. “How College Health Centers Help Students Succeed.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 23 Sept. 2013. Web. 14 June 2014.
CDC. “How Much Sleep Do I Need?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 01 July 2013. Web. 13 June 2014.
Foster Wallace, David. “2005 Kenyon Commencement Address.” Kenyon College Commencement. Gambier, Ohio. 21 May 2005. Speech.
Shragge, Rebecca. “Sleep Deprivation Soars among College Students.” The Aggie. University of California Davis, 17 Feb. 2010. Web. 15 May 2014.