The Last Best Good Story
Not Your Father's Generation
Hooked On Teaching
C'est Missoula Vie
AROUND THE OVAL
About the Montanan
The times, they've changed . . .
by Kevin Van Valkenburg
The University of Montana is not, as I've been reminded countless times, a Mecca of education on par with, say, Harvard.
And to be honest, I think UM students are thankful for that fact.
We're realists, no doubt, and anything but elitist. It's hard to be much else when a snow flurry interrupts a sunny day of reading on the Oval, as is often the case in Missoula. We came to this institution in search of any number of things, though we're not always sure what we're looking for. Ours, we hear, is the lost generation, the one mired in the struggle to appreciate both the Beatles and Limp Bizkit on multiple levels. Catcher in the Rye, though still one of our favorite books, doesn't hit as hard as it used to, and we understand why, even when our teachers don't.
The rules are not as absolute as they were for our parents' generation. When they donned cap and gown, in what seems like not long ago to everyone but us, they had words like "Vietnam" and "Watergate" to get the blood boiling, the ideas churning.
But where is our great cause? How will we be remembered, especially here at UM, when we're gone? Are we, too, supposed to believe that we should "trust no one over the age of 30," even when we hear that Bob Dylan, who first uttered the phrase, has been kept alive by machines for the past several years?
Okay, idealists we're probably not, though intelligent we indubitably are. That is what we love the most here at UM, that our generation has learned that no one can corner the market on knowledge, so without guilt we can sit in our homes with a Nintendo 64 controller in one hand, Kant or Rousseau in the other, feeling equally enlightened and entertained by both.
Our generation, it seems, is more likely to share ideas in the University Center over a bagel, or in the math building while we scratch our heads over an equation. We've been known to ignite debates on religion and politics in the Oval, and we'll passionately discuss Hemingway in the Liberal Arts Building (though in secret we'll admit we like Tim O'Brien better). We ask questions of those with vastly different backgrounds than us, hoping in each situation we can find some greater truth, all before we run to our favorite local pub for a pint, a game of pool and a good story.
In the halls of our buildings, we hope, are the next great businessmen and women, the ones who will put the World Wide Web in every home in America. Yes, that's right, we're still talking about the guy with the nose ring and the girl with the purple hair, because both of them are CEOs of the future. What's that you say? You don't like it? That's fine. Read about us on the Web as the world passes you by.
Tomorrow's authors, journalists, actors and professors are here at UM, yet so are the construction workers, the landscapers and the ditch diggersa fact we seem quite all right with. Our university, albeit a potpourri of class, culture and ambition, still falls short of what we consider acceptable levels of diversity, but we tend to work with what we've got.
Matt Williams, the most impressive basketball player to come to Montana in some time, exemplifies this. There are many things he is not, and those include: cocky, trouble-making, women-chasing and unintelligent. What he is, however, is polite, smart (a 3.9 grade-point average in physics), hard-working and admirable. He was named to the All-Big Sky Conference first team two years straight. He is not one of the best minority students on campus; he is simply one of the best students on campus.
And the same can be said of Paige Parker, the editor of the Montana Kaimin, our forever powerful yet irreverent student newspaper. Even professors seem to agree the paper has reached a new zenith of professionalism under her guidance this year, putting us on par with the best college newspapers in the country. Dare we mention she is the first American Indian editor in the paper's 101-year history?
Yes, perhaps nowhere but the Kaimin can the pulse of the students truly be felt. Conservative Christians, loggers, provosts, ASUM presidents and volleyball coaches each get an equal chance to shout the loudest for their cause, and for some reason students keep listening. The opinion pages and the letters to the editor say it all: Our generation isn't apathetic; we're just striving to find our cause.
The Kaimin's young journalists often toil into the wee hours of the morning, striving to keep the presence of Big Brother at arm's length, demanding answers when students sign up for canceled classes or see new, unexplained fees on their tuition bill. Even the journalism school, known for some time as the black sheep in the UM family after four deans in four years, seems to have righted itself. There is a new dean and a new basketball hoop in our hallways; we reserve judgment to say which has inspired us more.
And the debate continues. Was the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle "protest-worthy?" Who knows? Some students felt that way, if only for a day. Should we worry about Social Security? How do we pretend to have an interest in politics when no one wants to listen to what we say? Will we make our parents proud? Are we downloading fast enough? What exactly IS happening to the ozone layer these days? Is it okay to live together before marriage? And if so, what about sex? What if I don't have a good portfolio? Is Montana where I want to spend the rest of my life? Did I forget to mention sex? How about rock 'n roll? How do I keep from turning into one of Bill Gates minions? Can you send me an e-mail? I'm just not clear about your position.
Maybe there are a thousand answers, but we're fairly certain we haven't found them. Maybe by the time we're Bob Dylan's age we won't trust anyone under 30. And maybe UM's parking problem will be solved, though both seem equally unlikely.
Okay, so maybe we'll leave it at this: We're a cynical group, this generation, but we're not half bad. We're a whole lot smarter than the world gives us credit for. We're the college kids that actually read Salman Rushdie and wrote term papers on Vietnam because we were curious, not because a group of adults made a big fuss about it. So our first president was Bill Clinton, but everybody deserves a mulligan.
Tucked away in the Missoula Valley nine months out of the year, we've still got a pretty darn good perspective on the world. None of us is perfect, but we seem to be all right with that. Our flaws, we hope, are what give us a better perspective. The view is a lot clearer when you're not looking down your nose at everyone else.
We're better off for attending school here because, hey, perhaps it taught us how to be real people the way somewhere else wouldn't have.
And, by God, the fresh air doesn't hurt either.
Kevin Van Valkenburg is a senior in journalism who fancies a good book and a good football game. Believe it or not, at UM he found both.
Illustrations by Jacob Marcinek, a junior majoring in art and a cartoonist for the Montana Kaimin.
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