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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    UA’s more interesting (the second time around)

    Shane Hamcolumnist
    Shane Ham
    columnist

    When I returned to the UA to finish my undergrad degree after more than a decade away, I knew that age and experience would give me a different perspective on the campus. But when classes started I was blinded by a central truth that had eluded me when I was younger: Wow, the old student union sure was a dump! And let’s not even talk about the bookstore.

    I’ve been back at the UA for a couple of years now, on both sides of Speedway, and in many ways the experience has been more surprising and surreal than I expected. The shiny new buildings sprouting all over campus aren’t the only changes that took me by surprise. For just one example, the sight of all of those new parking garages brought bittersweet tears to my eyes.

    I really tried to brace myself against the inevitable urge to become the Grumpy Old Man. It was harder than I thought it would be. On an almost daily basis I would find myself thinking, “”In my day, if a cell phone went off in class the professor wouldn’t just ignore it; she’d say ‘What in the name of Olson was that freakish noise?’ “”

    Look, I’m not Rip Van Winkle. I use a cell phone and a laptop every day. I’ve been on the web since before the term “”blogger”” was coined. (Back then the term was “”idiot saying very cruel things about elected officials.””) Yet I am gobsmacked by MySpace and Facebook. I must confess, though, that I’m also quite impressed. Today’s generation of students can waste time more efficiently than we ever dared to dream.

    Not everything about college is new and/or bizarre. The university still serves the same basic function that it did when I was here before: undoing the damage created by the roiling stew of oversimplification and jingoism known as American secondary education.

    I certainly remember the long and painful journey to the level of understanding that many derisively call “”cultural relativism.”” It’s weird to watch people struggle to accept that there is no such thing as “”good”” or “”evil.”” It’s eerie to think back to a time when I tried to convince myself that, say, the Founding Fathers weren’t really racist.

    The surprising twist is that the much-ridiculed “”political correctness”” trend of 20 years ago has been revived and flipped 180 degrees. There are students all over the campus today who insist that respect for their values means not forcing them to learn anything contrary to what they “”know.””

    To my memory, anyone who thought that biology professors shouldn’t say anything to contradict the Bible kept quiet about it. Assaults on general education science classes were far more traditional. We didn’t hate those classes because they challenged our superstitions. We hated them because they were boring. And when I say “”boring,”” I mean “”hard.””

    Today’s generation of students can waste time more efficiently than we ever dared to dream.

    I have also been a little surprised at how far one’s attitudes can drift without even realizing it. A panicky conversation I overheard while walking across campus reminded me that there was a time when pregnancy tests were terrifying. When I was 20 I couldn’t wrap my head around the thought of anyone being happy about a positive result. Somehow being a parent doesn’t seem like such a nightmare anymore.

    The same process also works in reverse. Today I can’t wrap my head around drinking Bud Light unless forced to do so by circumstances, like being trapped at a major league baseball game or Gitmo.

    The biggest surprise of all, though, shouldn’t have been a surprise at all. It was something that I knew all along, but it didn’t really hit me until I was inside the classroom: This school is filled with outstandingly smart and talented young people.

    The students I have met since returning to school, with few exceptions, are more worldly in their outlook, more sophisticated in their thinking and more generous of spirit than I remember. At the law school there are no exceptions. It has been a pleasure.

    At the risk of sounding like a very special episode of “”7th Heaven,”” I learned more from coming back to school than I ever could have learned the first time around. I highly recommend dropping out.

    Shane Ham is a first-year law student. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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