Be more than just an academic success, give back to others

Along with most people, I find the gruesome pair of stress and uncertainty that comes with being enrolled in a top-tiered public university to be crippling. I know college students like myself are supposed to be focused on getting good marks, landing internships, getting jobs and starting careers, but often times I think this pursuit of ambition clouds our judgement. Lately, I’ve noticed the people closest to me are becoming increasingly absorbed in their work lives, myself included. I’m not writing to speak out against the ambition of the student or even the selfish student that the modern academic world creates, but rather the combination of the two.

I’m a workaholic; I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m always writing an article, writing a post, checking Twitter or sending an email. It’s incredibly time-consuming and annoying to those around me. I hate it. I also have to do it. As most students, I am of the persuasion that if I work hard now, maybe some day I won’t have to. As Julian Casablancas of The Strokes once said, “I’m workin’ so I won’t have to try so hard.” My issue, however, comes with people who are so absorbed in their ambition or career that nothing else matters to them, especially at the university level.

College is absolutely a time to professionally expand. In fact, I would say it is exclusively the time to do so, but it’s also a time to expand personally. It’s a time to learn, experience, serve and love. But when one becomes so wrapped up in his or her work, all of these other things seem to fall by the way-side.

A perfect microcosm of the issue I am describing exists right here in Champaign-Urbana. I am involved with a volunteer program, Big Brothers Big Sisters, here in Urbana. I go to a school on the east side of Urbana a couple times a week and mentor a 5th grader. His father passed away seven years ago and he has three little sisters. At the age of 12, he’s the only man in his household. Imagine that for a second: he just started middle school, and he’s the man of the house. Instead of sharing these experiences with his father, he’s relied on me to take him fishing, teach him how to tie a tie and give him an adult male perspective. I, and I’m sure most University of Illinois students, can’t even fathom the emptiness this child faces on a daily basis.

It kills me to see my little guy and an obscenely large number of his peers without fathers or whose parents struggle to feed them every single day. Five blocks west of his school students in Business, Liberal Arts and Sciences and Engineering are so absorbed in their own work that they tend to forget to lend a necessary helping hand. The problem is two-fold, however. It doesn’t necessarily lie entirely with the individual students, I suspect, but also with academic culture which breeds an attitude that discounts everything but academic success.

To those people who give nothing back, I have a message: The world is bigger than you. What you’re doing is important, but it’s not the only important thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re President Obama, a freshman in psychology, that really happy homeless guy on the corner of Sixth and Green or finding new ways to avoid doing your taxes (that’s a jab at you, business students). What you’re doing is not exclusively important.

What we’re doing academically at this University is undoubtedly of some importance, but so is lending a helping hand to someone who needs it so that one day, maybe he or she can be in our shoes. I’m a great believer in the tenant that personal diversification can do wonders for both community and self. When we have as much time and ability as we do, the fact that C-U volunteer organizations (or any volunteer organizations for that matter) are struggling to find volunteers is immensely disappointing.

I know that more times than not, ambition is a defense for uncertainty; the future scares me more than anything, too. What also matters, though, are the futures of individuals who otherwise wouldn’t have one.

Being wrapped up in purely your work or your social life is selfish. Part of being successful in life is paving the way for others to be successful, too. If you’re only building something for yourself, then what’s the point?

I don’t mean to preach; I’m far from perfect. A majority of my stress lies in that I can’t do as much as I’d like to, especially in the community. Many people I know seem to make absolutely no effort, though. And that’s what irks me the most.

I understand that spending time on one’s ambition is important, but I would caution people not to forget to give back. Maybe it’s worth not going out some nights or skipping work or class one day. At least I think it is. Everyone’s busy, but there is probably not a better time in our lives to take the time to change someone’s life. A little goes a long way.

Boswell is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]