Again with the Caf mugs. We started the school year with 650 mugs available for use in the Caf, and by the time November rolled around we were left with just 50. Bon Appétit ordered some new mugs and brought out the fancy teacups reserved for catering and special occasions in the meantime. This always happens.
I am an active proponent for better understanding of and appreciation for Bon Appétit at St. Olaf, so during my three and a half years at St. Olaf how did that even happen, I’ve done quite a bit of thinking about the yearly disappearance of mugs from the Caf. This is what I have deduced.
There are a few reasons for the case of the missing mugs. First, people are lazy. They snag a mug full of coffee or hot chocolate to drink during class and then never get around to returning it once said class is over. Second, people do not have their own mugs so they appropriate Caf mugs for their personal use in dorms or houses. Third, people break mugs. They slip in a puddle of spilled milk while trying to balance a stack of empty dishes on their way out of the Caf – can you blame them?
We’ll forgive people for the third transgression, but the first two, though they might seem like minor concerns at first glimpse, are actually reflective of more pervasive attitude on campus. This attitude is one I hear every day in all sorts of varied iterations, but it essentially comes down to this: “I am paying $50,000 per year to be here, so don’t I at least deserve to keep a mug?” In the midst of the drama surrounding Interim and spring semester registration, I’ve heard several versions of this same question: I am paying $50,000 per year to be here, so shouldn’t I be able to take whatever classes I want? Just last week I overheard somebody complaining of a mouse in her dorm room say, “If my family is paying more than $50,000 for me to go here, I should not have to deal with a mouse in my room!”
All of these complaints have some total validity. We’ve all experienced the frustration of landing in seat 19 in an 18-person course that we really wanted to take. I am the first to admit that I would probably react very poorly to meeting a mouse in Rand. But this attitude of “I’m paying a whole lot of money, and that means I should get what I want” worries me. It is not sustainable, it is not cooperative, and, perhaps most importantly, it is not reflective of what it means to be an Ole.
Students, why are you here? Parents, why did you send your children here? Alumni, what made you decide to become – and stay – Oles? These are questions we need to ask ourselves every single day, but most often we get lost in the minutiae of day-to-day drama and forget to remind ourselves where that minutiae fits in and why it matters.
I came to St. Olaf to learn, to get a degree, to discern a vocational path, to be challenged, to make lifelong friends, to experience the liberal arts and to launch myself into an important and impactful career. Those are my reasons. While no two students have chosen a St. Olaf education for the exact same reasons, I think many Oles would echo these if asked how they picked a college.
Many people argue that college is the time to be selfish. To a certain extent, that is true. It is a time for self-discovery and personal growth. But it is also a time for young adults to invest in themselves so that they can become active, contributing members to the world in which they were born. Millenials have been deemed the first generation to be principally interested in picking careers that “give back” or help to “make the world a better place.” For this reason, I have always thought that labeling members of this generation “entitled” is unfair and not usually accurate. In reality, millenials – in this instance, current Oles – sometimes just get caught up in the commotion of their everyday lives and forget about what they are truly aiming for. Nobody is here to hoard Caf mugs or to make sure they get into History 199 instead of History 191. St. Olaf is not here merely to fulfill its students’ desires, but to help students invest in their own futures so that they can use those futures to give back.
I am not advocating that students not worry about the money a St. Olaf education costs. In fact, I am arguing the opposite. Oles should remind themselves every single day that it costs a lot to be here, and ask themselves if they are making the most of that day. I would love to start to overhear comments like these:
“I’m paying a lot to be here, so I’m really excited to learn all I can from this class.”
“I know that being here is a huge privilege, so it’s part of my responsibility to make the most of it.”
“College is expensive, so instead of sitting around and complaining, I am working toward changing the parts of St. Olaf that need changing.”
“I’ll return my Caf mugs so that future students don’t have to pay even more for room and board than I do.”