DionRabouin.com (sort of)

College in 2023 words

Posted in Essays by dionrabouin on January 10, 2009

I remember coming to Ithaca for orientation. I didn’t have the money to go around the country “looking at schools” like so many of my schoolmates, so this trip was going to decide whether I would actually stick with it or not, and I’d already sent in my $250 so backing out would be serious business. Once I enrolled, I almost left a couple times: there was freshman year when I decided this school wasn’t worth it if I couldn’t get into the journalism major. Every professor in the illustrious Roy H. Park School of Communication had told me since day one that I’d better have well above a 3.5 if I wanted even a slight chance at getting in. I didn’t have well above a 3.5 and I wasn’t particularly blown away by the essay I’d written, so I figured I might as well pack it in.

I stated looking at other schools. I didn’t want to go back to Colorado. Maybe if I hadn’t grown up in the state it would’ve been a cool place to go to college, but as it stood I couldn’t see myself crawling on my hands and knees back to the state I had forsaken. As I started looking at schools I realized that every school I found myself partial to was a lot like…well, the school I was already at. I managed to get into Park and the decision just seemed to make sense.

I never went through that awkward adjustment thing they always talk about when you go to college, but there was another problem: I couldn’t get laid to save my life. Not that sex was absolutely essential for college survival, but everyone always tells you college is where you go to have ridiculous amounts of sex with ridiculously promiscuous girls and I apparently couldn’t find any. The worst part of not getting any was that I was trying so hard. I can’t even begin to describe the effect of trying your hardest to get something and continually failing on an admittedly prideful man. I also sucked at football, which I was counting on being really good at, and generally, my life was in the gutter.

There were two things that kept me at IC. I remember the first e-mail I ever got from Courtney Peck. I don’t remember what it said or any specifics, but there was an invitation to join Brothers 4 Brothers; they had food and they met every Friday at six. Looking back, I really don’t think I could have stayed at Ithaca College if it weren’t for B4B. It was like a support group for men of color on a campus that seemed completely devoid of any. We all sat around and talked about music, girls, politics and everything in between and for that one hour it was kind of like being with my boys back home.

There was also Intro to Poetry with Kevin Murphy. I’ve never liked a class. There’s never been a class that I can actually say I enjoyed. I’ve tolerated and learned from plenty but there’s never been a class where I was excited about the work and the class itself. Taking Kevin’s class at 9 a.m. made me think that maybe this whole college thing was what everyone was talking about after all. I remember reading Emily Dickinson and thinking “Eh,” and then hearing Kevin read it and explain it and falling in love with her writing. I remember the appreciation I developed for sonnets and haikus and sestinas. I remember writing six-page papers on 12 line poems and loving it. I think this is the class where I realized I could write anything about anything.

I honestly don’t think Kevin has any idea how influential he was on me as a writer, but he developed in me a deep appreciation for art that wasn’t there before This was the beginning of the change that college had on me. Then there was John Hochheimer. Hoch was part of the revolving door of journalism faculty the Park school can’t seem to or don’t care to keep around and he was one of the best. Hoch was the first teacher I’ve ever had who didn’t tolerate my bullshit. He demanded meaningful work from me, and if I didn’t do it he noticed. I’m not ashamed to say I made it through high school thinking I was an amazing writer and came to college and realized that I really wasn’t very good. If I’ve learned nothing else through four years of Park education I’ve learned that my writing is never as good as I think it is.

This realization created a monster. Once I finally realized that the drivel I was turning in wasn’t categorical brilliance, I started to doubt the validity of any and everything I wrote. This was not the attitude – or maybe it was – for a man with a 10, 18 and 30 page paper due in three different classes. I remember spending hours in the computer labs editing until 2 am.

The writing was the easy part. I could write until my fingers got numb and the words on the page stopped following a linear pattern, for pages and pages ad nauseum. But when it came to editing, I would rip through everything I’d written like an ex-girlfriend through once-adored pictures at the carnival. I would edit for days, literally days. I remember editing from 10 pm to 2 am, going to sleep and waking up at 5:45 am to make it to football practice, for an entire week.

It didn’t matter whether the professors thought my papers were good – unless they didn’t, in which case we had words – I felt a sense of responsibility to myself. This was sophomore year, the year of business. This was the year I laid my platform for the rest of my time in college; I was playing catch-up and get-ahead. This was the year when everything I thought I wanted to do and the person I thought I wanted to be got a little less clear. I came into freshman year looking for a journalism degree so I could write feature articles for Rolling Stone. I figured I’d go work for a small paper to start, maybe get a beat in Amarillo or Duluth and work my way up the ladder.

I think sophomore year of college – or its cultural equivalent – is where we all start to become the people we’re meant to be, or the people we want to be. I think this is the year when we become aware of the professional side of ourselves and really negotiate that with the personal side of who we are and who we want to be. Sophomore year pushed me to my limits and showed me what I was capable of and what I wasn’t. This was the year that I finally embraced the idea that studying was not, nor would it ever, be for me. Intermittent studying is doable, but I will never, ever pull all nighters with a textbook or even two-hourers.

The summer after sophomore year I got my first internship and moved to San Francisco with the woman I loved. Since the internship only paid $500 for the entire summer and my rent was $800 a month, I had to get another job. Environment California was where I learned what it was like to live in the grind; what it was like to work 9-5, come home tired and have to deal with a woman who can do nothing but bitch about how much (or little) attention you pay to her. I learned what life is like for everyone else out there whose lives aren’t exciting, they’re routine and predictable. My summer in San Francisco taught me that the typical, standard path of life that everyone looks forward to when they graduate from college, was simply not for me. I also learned how shitty San Francisco weather is in the summertime.

Junior year was spent away from Ithaca, first in the Rocky Mountains of my youth at the University of Colorado at Boulder – which I have to say to everyone out here because no one knows what CU is. This year was spent lying to girls about being on the football team and drinking indefensible amounts of alcohol. The world of work was made up of one class: Global Media Empires. Every student that took that class is now part of an indelible fraternity that was made by reading and re-reading every word in every text, finding notes from every possible resource and the 13-20 page final exam we all turned in. It was the hardest class I’ve ever taken surrounded by what was, at the time, my easiest semester of classes. Bella Mody worked us like Egyptian slaves and broke us like prized Broncos. In the end I think we were all stronger for having taken it, but if I could do it all over again I would run like the wind from that class.

During my semester in Los Angeles the work was work, and the work was easy and glamorous. My internship at The Hollywood Reporter consisted of sitting at my desk writing notes on facebook, listening with faux fascination to my editor’s stories and going to Hollywood parties and interviewing celebrities. This was where I fell in love with Los Angeles and got a little more direction in my life. I knew LA was where I wanted to be. I love LA because it’s one of those few places in the world where there’s literally no limit to what you can do. You can go anywhere and have moderate, conditioned, comparative success, but Los Angeles is one of those places where the ceiling doesn’t exist. This attitude is reflected in the people. Everyone says people in LA are fake and pompous, but I think everyone in LA is just deluded enough to think that they’re actually God’s gift to the world.

When I look back on my time in school I see freshman year as my year of struggle, the year everything shattered into pieces and I was left with the task of putting it back together. Sophomore year was my year of work, the year I put everything on my back and trudged through because I could see where I wanted to be and what I needed to do to get there. Junior year was my fun year, the year of excitement, the year when college was what everyone tells you it is. Senior year was (supposed to be) the year to kick back.

My first semester was one of the most difficult I’ve ever had. I was writing five articles a week for The Ithacan, taking 17 credits, acting on a TV show and trying to start a magazine, all while trying to put myself in decent position to get a job when I graduated. I’ve never felt happier than the day finals were over and I didn’t have anything else left to worry about. Second semester has been that semester I set myself up for, it’s been footloose and fancy free and I honestly can’t think of a single time I’ve been stressed out, save for those times when I realize I’m leaving school forever in a matter of months, weeks or days.

I see people running around this school at every stage of development (freshman through seniors) and I see a little bit of myself in them. I see the sophomore freaking out because he hasn’t gotten an internship for the summer and thinking he’ll never get a good job. I see the freshman losing her mind because she doesn’t like her housing arrangement for next year and she thinks her tight-knit group of friends will never be the same. I see the senior spending hours at the Friends lab finishing up their senior thesis paper, stressed to death because this is the capstone of their major. I see all this and I can’t help but laugh, because I know I’ve been there and I know for each and every one of them, somehow it’ll work out alright.

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