Dropping out, Defended
Written by Bwog Staff
Bwog guest Coogan Brennan, a Campus Character in these pages many months ago, was CC 02008.
Let me say, first, it’s an absolute honor and pleasure to be here on Bwog. I never thought I would reach the echelon of being an actual poster on Bwog. It just goes to show the saying is true: reach for the stars—even if you miss, you’ll be floating off into space like those bad dudes at the end of Superman II.
The staff here has been kind of enough to let me jot down a few thoughts here about life after being a Columbia undergrad. Most people will tell you about the benefits of going to Columbia or they’ll commiserate with you about the troubles inflicted by Columbia, and may even help you find a life after Columbia. Few, however, will tell you about the glory awaiting you as a Columbia dropout.
Better Loan Rates: Anyone watching the American economy closely knows a successful business start-up today needs to be able to play the market for a low-interest-rate loan.
For example, I’m trying to start up a non-profit organization called The Manhattan Project. When I sit down with people to discuss the idea, everyone says, “What a hair-brained idea! Who on earth would possibly go for that sort of thing?” I then casually mention that I had heard a similar thing before, during my college years (Them: “Where did you go to school?” Me: “In New York City…Columbia? Have you heard of it?”). I had dropped out, ostentatiously finding the curriculum “personally unsatisfactory.” To the naïve bystander, I instantly achieve a reputation smorgasbord of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Ted Turner, Michael Dell and Nina Totenberg. In short, an unstoppable speaking machine.
Dropping out of college definitely gives you the upper hand in some respects. Numerous luminaries have quite publicly moved on to better things instead of receiving a college diploma. So you’re in good company. Also, if you have any brilliant idea you’ve thought out comprehensively, it’s merely a matter of time before you find an investor with whom you can properly express your earnest enthusiasm for a project, possibly scoring a big-ole check to help you continue living and making trouble in The Real World.
Cooler Stories: Let’s just saying that you’re taking a Real Break from The Real World (“Fall Break” to your collegiate compadres). The fact that you dropped out of college instantly transforms any environment. For instance, I was in a bar with friends, striking up some casual conversation with the other patrons. I was working the scene with the classic Core cocktail conversation (a little Bernard de Mandeville here, a Foucault reference there: Me: “Oh, you’ve read the Bible AND the Qur’an too?” Them: “Actually, I dropped out of grad school before I could…” Me: “Bummer—So, anyway, like I was Fatima—not Padma—was Muhammad’s youngest daughter.”).
I’m totally in control. It becomes apparent something’s up, people are uncomfortably forced to ask what my field of study was in college. At this point, I lower my eyes—kind of sheepishly—pretend to be searching for something in my jacket pocket real distracted-like and turn to them—somber eyes—and say to them, “Actually, I just dropped out.”
The atmosphere totally changes. People start slapping me on the back and buying me drinks. It gets wild. I can’t mention everything that happened because Bwog strictly regulates comments concerning CTV. I can probably say that if Bradley Blackburn and his camera crew people were there, academic censorship would be the last thing you’d have to worry about (right, Brad? *wink).
Enjoying the best parts of Columbia without having to endure the worst parts: A good friend of mine, who graduated a year early, expressed her dislike thusly: “I love the people, I just hate the school.” I couldn’t agree more. I keep in contact with my Columbian friends and I am extremely proud of my Columbian accomplishments, both academic and extracurricular. However, I felt totally uncomfortable transferring over $25,000 of somebody’s money to structure a bureaucratic corporate system. I couldn’t reconcile the feeling that very few teachers actually cared about me as an individual. I can hear the naysayer retort, “Quit crying, you privileged snob, what did you expect?” Well, I guess I expected a little more personal respect from the Columbia faculty, staff and administrators who are supported, at least in part, by my tuition. I felt as though many people just wanted to make sure I passed my classes, didn’t fuck-up real bad and would I please hand over a government-issued license to properly sign in my anarchistic friend I met at Critical Mass?
No use in holding a grudge, though, right? What’s the saying? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? That’s funny, because it seems to have made me jaded and cantankerous. Anyhow, I still have Columbia’s name on my resume. If someone wants to look at my transcript, it’ll be on Columbia stationary (thanks for the complementary copies, Student Services!). I routinely check books out of the Columbia library, access JSTOR and other online databases through Columbia portals (crucial for self-education) and use Cubmail—old school Cubmail, not this tepid-alternative-to-Gmail gimmick (CUIT needs to clean up the “Do NOT match” search feature in this version, btw). Most importantly, I know I’ve met some of the brightest, most creative people of my generation, not to mention a few instructors (Prof. Andrew Delbanco and Heather Samples, to name two) wishing to produce truly independent minds.
Columbia taught me to think for my self by fighting for my self. Sometimes I wonder if the actual, teleological end of the Core Curriculum is to foment dropouts. I mean, do you think Nietzsche would have taken a swim test before writing Genealogy of Morals? Hell no! One of my favorite Columbia dropouts, Mortimer J. Adler, came close to finishing the Core but eventually, after repeated attempts to fulfill the gym requirement, left. I can sympathize, as I personally came dangerously close to flunking a Yoga class in my last semester.
There’s no sense in pushing yourself to be another Kerouac, or any other dropout society views misty-eyed. If you are considering dropping out of undergrad, let’s just say you’re in good company. And if you do decide to follow that dream and enter the sacred realm of college dropouts? Let me know, I’ll buy you a drink.
Mr. Brennan blogs in Oakland, California.