The Art of Moving On

by Daniel Chiu | 11/14/05 6:00am

Students often comment on how quickly our four years at Dartmouth go by -- how we must cherish our time here because it will be over before we know it. But what if you had an extra year to spend in college -- or eight?

Welcome to the life of Johnny Lechner, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Currently in his twelfth year of college, he is living the life that every jaded, nostalgic "grown-up" dreams of returning to: that of a perpetual student living a carefree lifestyle full of "beer and merrymaking," as quoted in a recent New York Times article. Despite the whopping tuition fees that spending extra time at a school like Dartmouth would entail, I must admit that there is a certain charm and appeal to the idea of being a college student indefinitely, of remaining in our little bubble and not having to worry about the "real world." In his 12 years, Lechner has probably taken every class in the books and experienced all that college has to offer. Yet my rational side tells me that there is still one thing that this 29-year-old real-life Van Wilder needs to do: move on.

Lechner represents the little kid inside of us all who doesn't want to grow up. "This is the lifestyle," Lechner is quoted as saying in the Royal Purple, Whitewater's school newspaper. "I'm not one to wake up at six in the morning all week. I'd rather hang out with friends, play basketball, party, and hit up the bars. I don't even want to graduate." Seeing as how he's a living legend at UWW, it's not hard to see why Lechner (or any college student) would not want to spend as much time in college as possible, living it up and shirking the responsibilities of adulthood that loom ominously in the distance.

But things might not be quite what they seem; the situation might not be as superficial as "student loves frat boy lifestyle too much to move on." According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Lechner has compiled a B average over his 12-year stint at UWW and actually made the dean's list with a 4.0 average for one semester. "I love college, I like learning, writing papers, taking tests, reading," Lechner says. This would seem to suggest that the allure of a carefree, Animal House-esque lifestyle is not what is keeping him in college, but rather it is something deeper: a paralyzing fear that immobilizes him and makes him incapable of taking risk.

It is very easy to fall into a comfort zone, especially at a place like Dartmouth. Of course, most of us would never choose to take the path that Lechner has chosen to take, but his fears and insecurities are simply a magnification of our own. As Lechner put it, "I'm happy at the moment, but would I be if I left? Why take the chance?" And therein lies the problem. Many of us are probably confused and uncertain not only about post-Dartmouth life, but also about the infinite other unknowns that life will throw at us. It is always easier to stick with what you know, what you are familiar with. And it is nice sometimes to escape into our bubble, free from the worries and concerns of the outside. But all the same, we must not forget to broaden our perspectives and take risks into the unknown every once in a while, for it is only thus that we will ever grow up.

And yet, despite all this, Lechner may be on to something. I feel that for too many students, college is just a pit stop on the broader track to careers and riches. Often, as in all phases of education, college not appreciated as an end unto itself. But it is important not to let that appreciation, that comfort, become a crutch for our insecurities. Lechner has settled into a comfort zone, but if he (and we) do not learn to take chances and move on, that is all that we will ever be doing: settling.

This coming spring, Johnny is going to take the ultimate risk: he is going to graduate to the next phase of his life. May we all never be afraid to do the same.

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