Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The kids are back.

Spring quarter classes started today at Santa Clara, and in contrast with the idyllic quiet of Holy Week the campus is now teeming with undergraduates. Even though I'm barely three years older than most of the students in the senior class, in some ways I feel like an old codger compared to the Class of 2005. This feeling is hardly new: I sensed that I'd passed a maturational milestone last spring with the graduation of Georgetown's Class of 2004. When Hoyas who were freshmen when I was a senior received their diplomas and (mostly) dispersed from the Hilltop, I knew that my own undergraduate experience was irrevocably a thing of the past. In other words, I'd received a potent reminder that I wasn't a kid anymore. One year later, I'm beginning to feel a kind of generational distance between me and today's college students. The undergrads I see walking hither and thither on campus no longer register in my consciousness as my contemporaries, but as "the kids."

Oddly enough, I probably wouldn't have been able to articulate the sentiments expressed above had it not been for an odd little experience I had last night. As I do on most weeknights, I was out for a mid-evening stroll. Walking by a residence hall on the Santa Clara campus, I passed two students in the midst of . . . well, let's say they were making use of a controlled substance that often enters into the stream of commerce on college campuses. As I walked by, one of the students shouted at me or at no one in particular, "Hey, you want a hit of this weed?" I said nothing and kept walking. Interestingly, the first thought that leapt into my head was: That wouldn't have happened in my day. In my day, I thought, college kids were a lot more discreet. If they were into that kind of thing (I certainly wasn't), they generally did it behind closed doors rather than in brightly-lit public places with a lot of strangers milling about - and they certainly didn't invite random passersby they didn't know to share in the revelry. In my day . . . gosh, in my day! Am I so old that I'm starting to think about "my day" as a time in the past?

Now, the incident I've just related didn't really make me feel like an old codger, but it did make me wonder whether the cultural milieu that I sprung from and the cultural milieu that formed today's college students are different in some respects. Beyond the question of plausible generational differences, I wonder whether the nexus between culture and geography is relevant here. Maybe Californians are simply less inhibited than Easterners, particularly in their attitudes toward controlled substances. One might even look at disparities in statutory penalties for possession of illegal drugs from state to state as evidence of cultural differences. Musing on this possibility led me to recall these lines from NOFX's "The Decline":
Jerry spent some time in Michigan
Twenty year vacation, after all he had a dime
A dime is worth a lot more in Detroit
A dime in California, a twenty dollar fine
Critics may object that I'm talking apples and oranges here, and in deference to their objections I shall desist from further analysis of an ultimately inconsequential event. At the very least, I hope my readers get a chuckle out of this rather atypical post - you might consider it an early observance of April Fool's Day (which saves me from having to say something clever on the date itself). These scribblings should prove that I'm not an old codger - at least not yet, anyway. AMDG.


At March 31, 2005 3:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I've been reading Novitiate Notes for sometime now and I believe this may be one of your most insightful posts. It is resonant as far as society in general is concerned (pastoral work, education, social change, etc.).

In an article for a sophomore class in Science and Society in Ateneo de Manila, it is mentioned that while a century ago, one generation took 20 years, nowadays it is only 5 years. This is due to advances in technology, which includes media. Therefore, you may just be 3 years older than the seniors but that's around a generation already, plus the differences in cultural milieu of course. Oooppss, now did I just say you're an old codger? :-)

At March 31, 2005 4:22 PM, Blogger LilBucner said...

dude, you may be the only jesuit-in-training who has quoted NOFX on his blog. that is awesome. that makes your blog awesome.

and as far as weed goes ... keep in mind where you went to college. at most schools people aren't so hypocritically pseudo-conservative (i speak, of course, only of 'deis of which i have personal knowledge).

At March 31, 2005 11:56 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Karen -
Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I'd definitely agree that generations are getting smaller (maybe we can even speak of "microgenerations"?) and that the rapid pace of technological and cultural change has a lot to do with it. I'd be interested in knowing more about that article. Pax,

At April 01, 2005 12:04 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

LilB -
Yeah, I'm probably the only Jesuit to mention NOFX on my blog, but don't think my Jesuit brethren are out of touch musically. My brother novice Jon Dawe (www.jesuitjon.com)often talks about popular music on his blog, though most would probably consider NOFX a lot more edgy than Sting, The Police or Jimmy Eat World - which is all the more reason why it's important for me to talk about NOFX on my blog.

At April 01, 2005 4:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're welcome! I now have an excuse to hunt down that article. I've been meaning to but never got down to it.

On a belated note, this post reminded me of my own experience in 2000. After just five years off-campus I went back for a short teaching stint and was shocked at how the students dressed and thought if they still had the concept of "appropriate attire". Imagine, even the very liberal Jesuits were lobbying for a dress code! "That wouldn't have happened in my day."

At April 01, 2005 12:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I doubt 'the kids' would have offered if they thought you were an 'old codger'. Don't be surprised, however, if some 'old codger', even older than you, offers you a hit...Weed has been around for several 'microgenerations', but, as LilBuc said, your lack of exposure may have more to do with the atmosphere of your previous academic pursuits. Miss you much..

At April 02, 2005 12:34 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Gosh, Mom... I may be sheltered, but I'm not THAT sheltered. I know the stuff has been around forever, and it was certainly around when I was in college. My point is that the etiquette was different - respectable potsmokers smoked in private and were careful about who invited in. I think this is only partly - and then, probably only a small part - about generation gaps. It's also an East Coast vs. West Coast and Georgetown vs. Santa Clara thing, no doubt.

At April 03, 2005 2:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shoulda hit that weed.


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