Don’t Worry, Be Wrong – Brianna Rettig

I’ve been asked quite a few times since I’ve gotten here, “Well, how are you liking it? How is Williams?” My answer is usually, “It’s great! I really love it here.” I genuinely stand by this answer. I am quite happy here and everyday I find myself more thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given, the incredible professors I have access to, and the growth I’ve experienced every day.

Occasionally though, when I’m asked this question, I sense a tinge of cynicism or maybe just genuine curiosity as to what I “really” think about Williams. Then, I answer a tad less idealistically. I’ve told a few professors rather blatantly “Everyone here is far more concerned with academic credentials and grades than with actually growing and engaging intellectually.” The resounding reaction has been the same each time: “You hit the nail on the head.” Especially in conversations with professors, it is shocking to have such a uniform reaction. I always thought the shallow notion of grades being the pinnacle of education characterized high school education, not college level education. So far, I’ve been disappointed in this respect. I truly believed we were done trying to impress admission officers with inflated grades and biased tests scores, but I was wrong. I hadn’t thought about the fact that we are still just trying to impress someone for the next stage in our lives—perpetually looking and acting ahead of our present selves and not allowing ourselves to become too attached to an especially beautiful math problem or divulge into an excruciatingly beautiful novel.

Granted, I am not a declared major yet. I am not surrounded by people who have definitively chosen their passion yet. Perhaps that is why most students I’ve interacted with seem only a slight level above apathetic towards most of their classes, or campus culture, or the world outside of the Purple Bubble, or really anything.

I have no doubt had incredibly interesting conversations and met mesmerizingly passionate people here whom I only hope to embody in my later years at Williams, but these people seem oddly obscure and linked only to the campus only peripherally.
Truly interesting and passionate intellectual discourse on this campus has been hard to access.

I believe this comes from a general insecurity among students here. By asking broadly vague questions to fake interest, they can avoid real fallacies and mask intellectual weakness. This anti-intellectualism or even just faked intellectualism—as if we’re putting on a show—is a problem. We try to separate intellect and emotion too viciously when intellect must require a balance of emotion and thought. The emotion on campus is almost non-existent though or at least devastatingly trampled out. I feel as though I could hear a pin drop from halfway across campus.

People are quiet here. Insecurity equates to broken passion. If we want to blame this on increased hypersensitivity, or just general apathy, I don’t care. Either way, we are wasting our opportunities to speak out of fear of being wrong and are in turn
loosing the intrinsic value of education—learning how to learn. What implications this has as we become older faces in society, I shudder to think.

Unfortunately, this fear of failure is incredibly justified. A college degree no longer guarantees a job after school like it did for our parents’ generation. We live in a much more pragmatic world where the gift of education is now a necessary commodity—an all too shallow consumer product we pay for in return for a piece of paper with elite reputations attached. Really, I can’t blame students or our generation for this superficial consumption but rather the society that has bred it.

How can I really say a student is shallow for coming here with the mindset “I am here to get a degree, get out, and make a lot of money.”? This is the worth we’ve attached to a college education and for many this is their way to escape whatever economic or social detriments they came from.

But, it could be so much more.

No one wants to fail. That’s what’s frustrating. That’s why everyone is so deathly afraid of being wrong even in the slightest. That’s why we have people who feel silenced because of hypersensitivity. And that’s why we have people more concerned with their problem sets than which way is forward. College degrees have become a necessity for success in our culture, but at what price? We’ve turned intellectualism into a commodity; we stuck a price tag on it and sold the image and in turn killed its own weight. The only feelings intellectualism evokes now are pretentiousness.

Well, I say hell to that. Be wrong. Be absurdly wrong. And you know what? Be wrong with an unabashed passion. We might actually learn something as opposed to being informed moderators for others to speak for us.

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