Emerson said to the Phi Beta Kappa society in 1837, “the sluggard intellect of this continent will look from under its iron lids, and fill the postponed expectation of the world with something better than the exertions of mechanical skill.”
Emerson defined the duty for all American colleges, but it’s important to move from the general to the specific. He wrote to scholars of a young nation, still living in the shadow of European culture. Today, at Sam, we are a student body with unrealized potential despite amazing raw talent.
It is hard not to ask if something is wrong at Sam Houston when more students here wear maroon than bright orange. When Shenanigans’ parking lot is packed every Thursday, but football games, film festivals and stage productions have empty seats. When Friday classes get out, and Huntsville is deserted.
“Why are you going to college?” It has become so easy to answer: “I want to get a better job and make more money.”
There is nothing wrong with a university making students more marketable, unless that becomes the paramount concern. The education, research and experience we gain here should be what fuels our later successes; they should not be negligible peripherals on the road to a better resume.
The purpose of High school is to facilitate the accumulation of facts and knowledge, whereas College should be a time we go beyond basic memorization and GPA boosting. Just as a child learns to mimic sounds and words before it begins to take ideas and form them into sentences, so the scholar should first be taught and then move on to invent.
Unfortunately, many college organizations at Sam Houston exist to perpetuate the notion that the status quo is intrinsically good, and that change is invariably bad. This is contradictory to our University’s purpose.
The thoughtful scholar shouldn’t measure the worth of ideas, arts or politics by their novelty, or resilience to change. Novelty inevitably wears off, and all things are susceptible to change. The thoughtful scholar should cherish or scorn ideas, works of art and political theories based on their inherent values, not their relations to anything else.
If there is a problem with Sam Houston, it is the lethargy of its students. It is too easy to turn on the iPod between classes and drive home every weekend. It’s a lot harder to cheer at the games or wear “I Bleed Orange.”
We can build the biggest stadium and it still won’t fill up when students are saying, “I wish I was at A&M” rather than “I’m happy to be at Sam.” Instead of “I can’t wait to pay off my student loans” why not “How can I get my money’s worth this semester?”
I write this to open eyes, not to step on toes. I believe we are capable of far more than we give ourselves credit for. The mark of a thoughtful scholar isn’t beyond anyone here. It is curiosity about the world, aversion to ignorance and the desire to better oneself.