Nonstop: Today’s Superhero Undergraduates Do ‘3,000 Things at 150 Percent.’
What is the price of academic success? Is the value of a college education measured by the education, the college experience or some ethereal blend of the two? Are those things supposed to be jam packed into an undergraduates life? Are schedules meant to organize every aspect of a student’s life, leaving spontaneity and impulsive behavior out of the picture?
These questions matter. Spontaneity and impulse are in many ways, like fingerprints. We are each unique and those things are reflective of our own personality. Spontaneity and impulse are stimulated by our own unique internal processes. They are an expression of our unique selves.
Like the jazz musician or singer who improvises on an old classic or the photographer who finds a new way to look at the world around us, our impulsive behaviors are one way others see us for who we really are- and that is just as important as the other, more deliberate behaviors we exhibit.
So what happens when life is scripted?
YOU WAKE UP EACH MORNING with a fever; you feel like a shadow of yourself. But no time for sickness today—the Adams House intramural crew has one of its thrice-weekly practices at 6 A.M., and you…will…row. Some mornings, you watch the sunrise from Lamont Library after hitting your study groove there around 11 the night before and bushwhacking through assignments during the quiet time between 3 A.M.and 5. The rower and late-night scholar is Becky Cooper ‘10. “Lamont is beautiful at 5 A.M.—my favorite time,” she says. “Sunlight streams in.” There’s plenty to do—Cooper is taking five courses, concentrating in literature but still pre-med: “I can’t close doors.”
She writes out her daily schedule to the minute: “Shower, 7:15-7:20.” Lunch might be at the Signet Society, the private, arts-oriented, undergraduate club where she is vice-president. She also belongs to the Isis, a female social club, and has held the post of Dionysus at the Harvard Advocate, planning social events like the literary quarterly’s spring dinner (which she revived) for 70 attendees. Cooper has an omnivorous appetite for learning and experience: new fascinations constantly beckon, and she dives in wholeheartedly. Yet the ceaseless activity leaves little space or time for reflection on who she is or what she wants. “I’m more terrified of being bored than busy,” she explains. “Though I’m scared I’ll work myself into a pile of dust if I don’t learn when to stop.”
Cooper has always been super-active. Even in elementary and middle school, she “adopted an intense work ethic” and participated in track, basketball, chorus, a pottery class, and gymnastics. At the “pressure cooker” Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, she put the shot and racewalked for the track squad, and added cheerleading. After track meets and practices on Saturdays, she had a Sunday job as a docent in a science museum. And from seventh grade on, she attended summer camps for gifted students at upstate college campuses.