UCSB is a fun place. Any opinion to the contrary is irrational; if you attend this university and regularly find yourself bored— like if you’re that stereotype of the lazy IV stoner always complaining of your lack of things to do— it’s entirely your fault. There is just simply too much to do, so much to learn, so many new opportunities to pursue, and so many incredible people to meet at both UCSB and Isla Vista that it’s insane to think you’ve ever “done it all” and thus fall prey to the living hell of life-boredom. However, UCSB is also expensive. Like… really expensive. I’m not exactly the world’s greatest detective for figuring out that universities in 21st-century America cost an absurd amount of money, but you might be surprised to know that many Gauchos are quite unaware of the fact that we pay for pretty much everything offered at UCSB in some way or another. Tuition and housing already cost a fortune; consider that you are also paying for every little sensitivity-training program offered by RHA (RA’s are free to troll me in the comment-section below), the Student Resource Building (SRB), the Multi-Cultural Center, the Associated Students’ political budget, the Recreation Center (God bless that place), construction of our bitchen’ new library, the Career Center (that one building across from Storke Tower that you always lie to yourself about actually visiting someday), and even the cost of getting my uneducated opinion published in the Daily Nexus for your reading displeasure. Regardless, you may be glad by the fact that many of these programs give individuals like yourself a greater sense of belonging and expression to pursue their passions in college and develop themselves professionally, ultimately making UCSB (and the world) greater as a whole. More realistically though, several of the programs paid for by many UCSB students— students that perhaps used to be involved with something on-campus but now just kinda bum around in Isla Vista— are things that they will probably never participate in or even hear about during their short time at UCSB.
At this point in my article, you may think I sound like the classic fiscal conservative frustrated by the breakdown of the money I put in (to the university) compared to the lack of output I receive. While these things— like the absurd salaries of the UC higher-administrators and the non-transparent allocation of student funds towards UC programs that will never actually affect us— is a valid discussion that a better-qualified Gaucho can discuss, this is not at all the point of my article. No, I assure you that I’m actually arguing quite to the contrary; my point is that since you’re already paying at least partially for most of these programs, you might as well get off your crummy IV couch one day and check one of them out! So where to start? Perhaps the coolest program offered by our university for your pre-graduation bucket list is UCSB Arts & Lectures.
What is Arts & Lectures (A&L) you ask? As taken from their website: “Founded in 1959, UCSB Arts & Lectures is the largest and most influential arts and lectures organization between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Arts & Lectures annually presents more than a hundred events, from critically acclaimed concerts and dance performances by world-renowned artists to talks by groundbreaking authors.” In simple terms, A&L invites many “big deal” people to personally present their even-bigger ideas to us Gauchos, thus providing us with the incredible opportunity to learn valuable life lessons from successful and interesting people. You can probably compare a typical A&L guest-speaker event to a TED Talk… minus all the annoying red carpets and shameless self-promotion that often go hand-in-hand with TED Talks (and yes I still love em’, did you hear that UCSB hosts an event called (free) “Tacos and TED Talks”?!).
The mission statement of A&L is to “educate, entertain and inspire”— I can honestly say that they do an excellent job of this. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing the world’s most famous free-solo rock climber, Alex Honnold, as he personally described to an audience of outdoor enthusiasts like myself what it is like to be “alone on the wall” both physically and mentally. For Alex Honnold, this means climbing a 2,000ft. vertical rock face with no ropes… for you or me, this “being alone on the wall” may mean paying off that crippling college debt over the next decade. He also signed my hat and posed for a “family portrait” with my friends, which was pretty cool. When one of my longtime role-models— Eric Greitens, a respected Navy SEAL officer, Rhodes Scholar, distinguished humanitarian, best-selling author, entrepreneur, and governor candidate of Missouri— gave an incredible lecture on the “virtue of resilience” to the A&L audience, I was Chazz Michael-Michaels mind-bottled (like when you’re so stoked that your thoughts bounce around in your head like a bottle). When I got to talk to him afterwards, I was flabbergasted. Yes, “flabbergasted”… I actually have no idea what that means (does anybody?), but my overarching point is that if you want to get yourself flabbergasted, I highly recommend attending A&L events.
To name a few more, UCSB Arts & Lectures also hosted Malala Yousafzai and Robert Gates. If you know who either of these people are, you will be very impressed that they come all this way to Santa Barbara just to talk to college students like yourself (also to promote their books, but still). Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Prize; when she was only 15 years old, she was shot point-blank by some Taliban coward for her choice to stay in school and for her family’s efforts to promote education in the region (the Taliban had barred women from schools). Malala made a miraculous recovery and has since gone around the world to champion the rights of all people to an education. While I missed this particular event at UCSB A&L, it truly speaks volumes that UCSB is able to bring in such influential people like Malala. Furthermore, A&L hosted Robert Gates, who was the director of the CIA for several years during the Cold War and who also served as Secretary of Defense under two presidents (presidents of different political parties, by the way, which demonstrates Gates’ ability as an advisor since most Cabinet members lose their jobs whenever a new president comes in). I attended this lecture with a few military buddies of mine and as a political science major, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time as Gates openly discussed many of the security threats that the United States now faces— real threats to the western world that many media outlets have not even covered yet. I also really enjoyed when a buddy of mine (an aspiring SEAL-team officer) decided to walk up to a bunch of naïve hippies who were protesting Gates’ lecture outside as he introduced himself as an “aspiring war criminal wishing to be protested and spit at by self-righteous, pampered hipsters from Berkeley one day as well.” So yeah… fun memories aside, Arts & Lectures is kind of a big deal and it brings in “big deal people” often.
But why on earth would you want to attend a “free” lecture after you’ve already been attending your cumbersome load of boring lectures and uneventful discussion sections all week? It could be friggen’ Pint-Night at Woodstocks after all, you wouldn’t want to miss out on that now would you? I’ll give you three reasons as to why you should attend an A&L event, and hopefully you will actually consider doing so by the end of this article.
First, the people that A&L hosts have all done noteworthy things and if you want to do noteworthy things in your own life, it helps to learn from those that have gone before you. For example, A&L hosted UCSB’s own Shuji Nakamura (our professor who received the Nobel Prize in physics) last year. Despite the difficulty in understanding him through his thick Japanese accent, I’m sure that someone in the crowd with big ambitions to contribute to physics one day probably got a lot out of that lecture. Although I barely passed my honors physics class in high school, I still learned much from Shuji’s talk— primarily regarding his unrelenting ambition, which for him meant solving the “unsolvable” problem of creating the Blue LED light.
Secondly, the friends that are weird enough to attend A&L with you instead of going to Pint Night are probably just as excited with the world as you are. These are cool people that you need to hang around with more often; if you ever want to know which ones of your friends are super pumped on life and learning, just see who attends an A&L lecture with you. After they attend their first one, they will most likely want to attend more of them. Boom, now you have established a fun activity with cool friends who are pumped on the world… sounds pretty enticing to me!
Lastly, the speakers at UCSB Arts & Lectures are probably better teachers than most of your professors are. Many of your professors are at UCSB to do one thing— research. They could care less about teaching you the subject matter clearly, they could probably care less about you, and teaching you life lessons is definitely beyond their pay-grade. Face it, UCSB is a research institution and unfortunately for non-science majors like myself, it’s what we signed up for. This is why attending an A&L event is not just like “attending another lecture.” The people who give these talks are doing so for the purpose of teaching or sharing big ideas that may challenge you to better yourself (also known as life lessons) and they also get a lot of speech-practice because they are usually giving the same talk as they travel across California for similar speaking events. Who knows, you may actually enjoy sitting in another lecture hall on a weeknight if the person speaking to you is actually able to convey their worthwhile message clearly.
Face it, Arts & Lectures is a super cool program that more UCSB students should be taking advantage of. And while I’m no financial expert on the breakdown of our tuition payments relative to all the discounts and “free” programs that UCSB students receive, I believe that funding initiatives for Arts & Lectures should definitely not be axed on the 2016 student ballot. So the next time you find yourself sitting on your $10 Free-or-for-Sale couch in IV bitching about the lack of things to do in Santa Barbara (especially now that couch-burning is illegal), do yourself a favor and sign yourself up for the next Arts & Lectures event. You won’t regret it, and who knows… you may even become an A&L regular like me.