About a year or so ago, I watched Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts. The movie is about a 35 year-old dude who’s a bit stuck in life, goes back to his small liberal arts school in Ohio, somewhat falls in love with a 19 year-old, and ultimately learns a bunch of things about talking to girls in bookstores. The movie features a small role starred by Zac Efron, who plays a nouveau hippy-stonerish dude who, despite seeming not-at-all on the right track, has enough charisma and inborn curiosity to pique Josh Radnor’s character’s interest — and lead him down a Twilight-filled road that makes him tackle the big questions.
In other words, Zacky plays one of those fleeting people, who, despite having only been around for a night or two, seems to be undeniably impactful. Here are a few others that unexpectedly come to define your college experience:
1. The Senior Who Is Some Sort Of Deity
This happens in pretty much any organization — greek life, sports team, ping pong club. When you join as a wide-eyed freshman, you’ll look up to someone (likely in a leadership role) who seems to have it all figured out. In many ways, this person could become your first mentor — someone that’s more a peer than a parent, but knowledgable and protective like a responsible older brother or sister.
Of course, when you become the senior, you realize that your adulation may have been premature — if people are looking up to you like you looked up to your mentor, those people are in for a world of disappointment.
2. The Person Who Could’ve Changed Your Life If You Said Something
During my junior year, I attended some sort of workshop for people potentially interested in film. There was this awkward group exercise, in which we were paired up in groups of 4 and had 20 minutes to come up with a story idea. There was one girl in our group who was a terror and a half, so me and another girl in the group spent the entire time exchanging knowing glances. We hadn’t spoken a word to each other, but it was one of those situations where we didn’t really have to.
Afterwards, we ended up walking all the way across campus together — asking the usual where are you from?/what school are you in?/are you ready for the plague? series of questions you’re required to ask people in college, except that it was clearly more (or at least I thought it was clearly more). I definitely should’ve asked her for coffee when we departed, but I didn’t — I rationalized by figuring that if it was meant to be, I’d probably run into her at a party or something.
Alas, I didn’t see her for the rest of the year, and when I saw her the following year, we did that thing where we pretended not to know each other.
3. The Cool R.A.
College stereotyping (which isn’t exactly helped by lists like this one) often leads us to think that the world can defined via extremes and convenient silos. Of course, this is not the case. R.A.’s are technically lame, but the second you meet a cool R.A. — one who does his job, but is reasonable and not out to get you so long as you’re not a dick — you realize that viewing the world in these sorts of silos is kind of disgusting.
4. The Professor Who Turned Out To Be Much More Than An Easy A
As smart person William Deresiewicz speaks to in this very good book, classes increasingly seem to be this unspoken compromise between student and professor. Students want to do as little work for the best grades possible, and professors, often rewarded for their research, don’t always have the incentive to devote too much of their time to class. The student-professor relationship then, becomes about as transactional as going to Starbucks and using your phone to pay for your daily dose of Chai-inyde
BUT, perhaps once or twice, the class you thought you were gonna sleep through and still get an A- becomes a whole lot more eye-opening than that. The way the teacher presents the material is refreshing to say the least, and you find yourself feverishly looking forward to every Tuesday and Thursday at 3:15.
5. Battle Of Stalingrad Hypotheticals
Additional smart person David Brooks has talked about the decline of the “late night bull session,” AKA when you sit in a common room until 3 am and talk about things like what would’ve happened if the battle of Stalingrad didn’t turn out like it did.
While these sessions might be less common than they once were, I don’t think they’re necessarily dead — they may be floundering and in need of a post-crash sized stimulus, but that arguably makes them (and the people that you have them with) all-the-more special.
6. Guy You Talk To For An Hour At A Party, And Then Never See Again
Somewhat similar to #5, except that the conversation you two have would make zero actual sense without the use of social lubricants. Regardless, you’ll remember everything about this interaction, and smirk everytime you walk past the random backyard where it occurred. You’ll have no idea who even lives there.
7. The Girl With The Hidden Passion
I’m talking about that friend who’s deep in the business school game, but sneaks off to random buildings at 3am to work on his concerto that he’s embarrassed to tell anyone about. Or the girl who spends 16 hours in the med school building, but is also somehow writing a novel (and she’s actually writing it, not just dicking around on twitter.)
The fact that people do one thing, but actually really care about that other thing, is one of the most compelling subplots of not only college, but life in general.
8. The Guy At The Dining Hall Who Gives You Free Food
A gamechanger if there ever was one.