Wednesday, November 7, 2012
This past August, my boy/girl twins started college, freshly minted members of the class of 2016. They are on different campuses, 1,000 miles apart.
As we off loaded the car, then stood on line to borrow a cart and transport their possessions, you would not have been able to tell my first day at school from their first day of school. We were standing in line, wearing shorts and sandals, and it was hot and humid.
And there ended the resemblance.
College "a long time ago": It is uncool to have a lot of stuff. I arrive with 7 pairs of corduroy pants, some dashikis, 4 heavy cartons of records, a heavy and bulky record player (consisting of an amp, tuner, turntable and speakers), and an even heavier electric typewriter. I spread an orange Indian comforter over my bed, tack up an Escher poster with some gummy stuff, and voila - I am home.
College 2012: It is uncool if you don't have stuff. Everyone has a lot of clothing, and a lot of products to make the XL twin bed comfy, including bed bug repelling mattress sacks, mattress pads, matching sheets and comforters. No one is carrying anything heavy. No need to bring a TV, you can stream everything. No need to haul records, your smartphones can hold thousands of songs. No need for a typewriter, everyone has a laptop.
College "a long time ago": the ratio of boys to girls on my Ivy League campus is 7 to 1. I have a boyfriend within 12 hours of my arrival.
College 2012: the ratio of boys to girls is 40 to 60 percent. My son is happy, my daughter less so.
College "a long time ago": Almost everyone is white and American. I don't meet a biracial student until sophomore year. There are no gay people. Wait - there were gay people, (I figured this out at my 25th college reunion,) but they were so hidden in the closet, and the whole topic of sexual orientation was so hushed, that well, I didn't know. Any. Gay. People. In college.
College 2012: There are all kinds of students, representing every ethnic group, sexual orientation, and many foreign countries.
College "a long time ago": Time for homework. I carry mimeographed assignment sheets to the library, spend half an hour and a roll of quarters photocopying key information from a variety of books so that I can write a paper. Paper is written long hand, sitting at a desk in my dorm room, to the tune of the Doors "Light My Fire." (A very long song so no need to get up as often to move the phonograph needle back to the beginning.)
College 2012: Time for homework. Twins lie in bed, with laptops, doing problem sets posted online. They instantly get feedback on whether or not they got the right answer.
College "a long time ago": I really miss my parents and friends from high school. I use the pay phone down the hall to make a collect call to my folks in the evening, when I know they are home. There are no answering machines and I don't know when my friends are in their dorms. I work really hard to make new friends.
College 2012: Twins have cellphones, can call parents anytime and video chat anytime. They are frequently and easily in touch with their former high school friends. Consequently, making college friends is important, but doesn't have the same urgency.
Did I have it worse? Do they have it better? Who got/is getting the better education?
I have no idea.