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Monday, May 20, 2024

Column: The depressing side

There is much to be
said for the great experience of a thing we call “college.” The incredible
opportunities it has to offer, the interesting people poised for encounters,
the barely recollected parties. It’s pretty grand, this college life.

But my name is
James Patrick O’Hara the fourth, and I don’t do “happy lists of awesome things.”
I do the quirky, the contra and the morbid. So here’s to mapping a list of
things I find depressing about college life. Enjoy?

* * *

I was on the bus
home from campus the other day when an elderly man boarded. I’d say he was
somewhere in his 60s, and he looked tired. Not the sleep-deprived tired of a
college kid, but a tiredness that comes complement of a long, wearisome life;
the sort that gets etched into a face permanently in the form of harsh worry
lines. You could sense it, you know? How he was somehow deficient in a quality
of vitality that indicates complacency. His sad state all the more apparent
because he was surrounded by self-satisfied college students contented in their

I immediately felt
bad for him, and as I watched him I couldn’t help but imagine him thinking
sadly to himself about the youthful life he no longer had. And I felt guilty,
too, because I figured his imagined reflection was spurred on by his vision of
us, the young and happy students around him — the kids who still believe that
they may go on to do incredible things.

And I wondered
further, as he sat there in lonesome fashion, how could he not also be thinking
that some of us truly will go on to do “incredible” things? Things he never
did, tried or had the capacity to do. And if he figured that much, how could he
not also see, with the experience granted him by many harsh years, that some of
us won’t go on? How some of us will fail and end up riding the bus, like him,
weary from a long life full of unaccomplished dreams and failed aspirations;
broke, lonely and embittered by a life that felt wasted.

That, then, is
something I find depressing. Seeing the tired, beaten-looking people on the
Davis student bus system, even if I’m just projecting my own fears, which is
probably the case.

* * *

I’d be lying if I
said I didn’t ever feel tired of living one weekend to the next, one party
after the other where the wait in between feels like a coma of thoughtless
anticipation. A life summed up by a series of brief highs and drawn out
recoveries; a basic state of existence that implies a perpetual recurrence of
sleep walking through the week toward the destination of self-abuse we college
kids call a weekend.

In other words, I
find it depressing that, at times, I find myself and other students living
college one escapist-propelled weekend to the next, where everything in between
is just filler time. That, to me, is not the existence I want to live. 

 * * *

I see nearly an
entire generation of college students trying to “follow” their dreams as if
they didn’t know almost everyone, in the end, adheres to conventionality. All
we can do, and all most everyone ever does, is hope that they won’t be among
those who don’t make it.

I find myself
fearing, too, that I will be one of those left behind. And as much as I fear
for myself, I honestly feel compelled to hope others will fail for my sake.
Because how many new engineers can there really be? How many writers? Doctors?
Lawyers? I wonder then, is the widely adhered “follow your dream” mentality
progressive toxicity? A double-edged sword, if you will, where its subscribers
all secretly must hope for the other guy’s failure in the name of personal
success? I find that depressing. The idea that we are all competing and only a
few will win.

* * *

Is college the high
point of our lives? Really, is this the zenith of happiness? Am I seriously to
believe that from this point on, my life will be in a constant state of
decline? Is that how I should be justifying “living it up?” Because if so,
that’s the most depressing prospect of all. That this should be the greatest
time of my life, and from here out I will be in a state of inertia, left only
to reflect in sad nostalgia on the “high point” of my life. I find that
mentality incredibly depressing, and common. Well, I don’t know about you, but
I feel my like my life is just beginning.


JAMES O’HARA promises he will write something fun for
next week’s column. E-mail him about whatever at jpohara@ucdavis.edu; I accept
hate mail and monetary checks, in particular.


  1. That’s deep how you got all judgmental about an old man and whined about your feelings. This is the sort of hard-hitting journalism that keeps readers like me coming back to the Aggie.


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