‘Tis the season for the yearly brigade of tour groups to flood our campus paths. Like a migrating herd of zombies they traipse the typical route: from the ominous Campbell Hall, to the looming shadow of Storke Tower, to the serene shores of Campus Point. Any current student can pick out these prospective freshmen since they glow neon against an otherwise invisible background — map-toting, smile-bearing high schoolers succumbing to the lust for our beautiful paradise.
Anyway, a couple days ago, while in the midst of running several minutes late to a section with an I-am-the-lord-of-this-classroom TA, I was stopped by one of these invading families, wandering like lost lambs clearly astray from the herd. A “UCSB Mom” sweatshirt-wearing lady asked me for directions to the UCen. Being polite, I quickly gave her the, “Go towards the tower and you can’t miss it” speech. Just as I was about to continue my cross-campus power-walk-edging-on-sprint attempt she begged to answer one more question: “How do you define yourself in a university this large?” Obviously, annoyance was my first reaction. I need to go to class and now this stranger is asking me for a Monday morning philosophy lesson? My answer was one sentence: “The professors are great.” And without another word, I was dashed down the path.
The question stuck with me for the rest of the day and the days following. How do I, or anyone else, define myself at UCSB? Society tries to define us as a party school, home of the infamous Deltopia and, on a more positive note, a top public university or research-topia. We all hope to someday go to graduate school or get a job. However, when we write our name and degree on an application and send it into the bureaucratic world to be read as one of perhaps hundreds in a stack, how do we become more then the letters that comprise our names?
We are all perm numbers, one less spot to be won in a highly-impacted class on G.O.L.D., variables that affect a curve or one another’s competition for that coveted ‘A’ in lower-division economics. Yet we are all so much more then a tally mark in a seemingly endless enrollment list. We all had approximately 18 years before coming to UCSB, spent in different corners of the world, seeing different things, thinking wildly different thoughts.
In this way, we were all writing our own story and for this chapter of our lives (college) our narratives just so happen to have intersected. For four years, the thousands of us are “UCSB” — we all share in the triumphs of athletic victory or groundbreaking research, and we all shy in the foibles of post-spring break rioting or deadly disease outbreak. But how do we become unique in the way we craft the chapters of our future?
Yesterday, my anthropology professor posed his daily iClicker question, tasking students to form an opinion on the definition of marriage. Not that I had a particularly impassioned response on the issue or anything, but getting merely to have a say immediately injected me with a sense of pride. But soon the all-too-familiar histogram was pulled up and I was once again relegated to being a number — in this case, a member of the minority. I found myself inspired to defend my view, but I was not about to blurt my convictions out in front of I.V. Theater at 8 a.m. Instead, upon returning back to my apartment, I brought up the topic with my roommates and enjoyed an hour-long heated debate which ended in an awkward combination of laughing and tears.
It was only then that I realized the answer to my question. How do we define ourselves at this school? We must care. It is easy to be apathetic, to ingest course material and regurgitate it into a blue book at the end of quarter. Not to sound clichéd, but if we resolved to learn for the sake of learning one fact per day, imagine what a difference that would make. In order to stand out in the competitive “real world” drive, passion and conviction are must-have attributes, and the gumption to take a chance is the basis of nuanced creativity.
I am not sure where I will be in 10 years, or even in one year for that matter. I am a college student, along with millions of other members of my generation. I am a student at UCSB, along with all the rest of you. But, beyond all else, I am me. I don’t have the magic formula for success or the template that dictates how I should strive to define myself. But for the rest of my college career I pledge to find one thing a day that sparks my internal flame and scribes one more line in the unique novel of my life that will someday be the total definition of me.
Skye Hart is a current UCSB student.