High School Was an Obligation. Is College, Too?

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Obligations are a part of life: We have to do laundry despite the struggle to find quarters and detergent, we have to attend family parties despite the awkward interactions and we have to study for exams despite wanting to go out with our friends. Over the years, it seems as though college itself has become some kind of obligation as well.

High school was certainly not the best time of my life, but I didn’t hate it either. I liked learning, my friends, the clubs and the sense of community that suddenly popped up out of nowhere at the end of senior year.

However, there were definitely a few aspects that I did hate. I hated waking up before the sun, hurrying across the building to make it to a class on time and the piles of busywork I had to finish. But what bothered me more than anything was the overwhelming sense that high school itself was an obligation.

I took classes I hated because they sounded more challenging. I went to meetings for clubs I didn’t care about so that I would seem well-rounded. I even gave up my lunch period so I could pack my schedule with AP classes. I didn’t want to do any of these things, but I was doing them because I thought I had to. If I wanted a good life, I would have to endure high school.

Everything I did in high school—or at least 99 percent of it—was to get into a college where I’d be happy and successful. It didn’t matter that I was miserable, tired and struggling. When I was in college, things would be better, and I’d finally get to do what I love. I could take classes I wanted to take rather than the ones in the path of the stereotypical honors student. Eventually the obligations paid off, and I got into college. I thought I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

And things did start out much better. I declared an English major and got involved in theatre. I joined a book-reviewing club, chose classes that sounded interesting, and started doing things because they felt right and intrigued me, rather than because I thought they would get me somewhere or push me farther forward in life.

But then, as always, the reality of obligations came crashing down again. I should have selected a major that would be more “useful.” I had to get an internship to get a job. I had to find a high-paying job to support my Iggy-level fancy lifestyle. Doubts came raining down. Maybe, I shouldn’t have devoted so much time to the theatre if I wasn’t even sure it was something I wanted to do forever. Maybe, I should’ve taken some business classes instead of courses I found interesting. Maybe I should start to see college itself as an obligation: an obligation for getting a good job and whatever else came next.

And maybe that’s right. But even if it is, I refuse to think of college as an obligation. If I start to do that, then everything in life will suddenly follow suit. First my job will be an obligation. Then what if my future-husband turns into an obligation for a more comfortable life? What if my children turn into obligations for someone to take care of me in old age?

I don’t know what the right answer is. I don’t know what really is obligatory and what we’ve made obligatory. But I do want to stop postponing happiness, and stop seeing everything as a means to get to something better. One of my professors told me that nowadays, we too often see people as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves. And that’s not how we should view people, or even most other things in life. I shouldn’t always make choices because they’ll help me get to something better. Because if everything is an obligation to improve, and if we never reach the end of it, what’s the point?

Caitlin is a senior English and Theatre major at Boston College. She likes books, theatre, and inspirational quotes, and knows way too much about cheese.

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