Monday, March 13, 2006

Paper Reflections

We all fill out numerous applications in our lives. We apply for jobs, honors, organizations, educational institutions, insurance, credit cards, benefits, and memberships. It's practically impossible to survive in the modern day world without filling out applications. (Think about it, you have to apply for jobs or for welfare and subsidies!) It's shocking the number of applications I have faced in just the first 21 years of my life. I have applied for seventeen educational institutions, not to mention numerous jobs, organizations, and honors. In addition, I've read applications and participated in selection for both jobs and organizations. So, what do these applications really say about us?

An application doesn't really reflect the candidate, it really reflects the person's skills of persuasion. You could be an underwater-basket weaving major, but if you have a high GPA and show leadership and involvement in underwater-basket weaving club and the society for underwater-basket weaving honorary, you may do well in the applicant pool after all. This is not to say that no one is qualified, it is merely to say that we learn how to present ourselves in the most appealing and professional-sounding ways possible. After a few applications, we learn that using buzzwords and filling the whole space provided is as important as actually having the necessary skills and experience.

This is all a strange result of the mixing of a society structured on achievement and our information-saturated media culture. We expect all information to be presented in a crisp, concise, professional manner. We view with skepticism anything that doesn't fit these expectations. While this system works in many ways, it makes me wonder about the people it allows to slip through the cracks.

For instance, a person who speaks four languages fluently, but for whom English is a third or fourth language will struggle in this system because their writing on applications will seem poor. Likewise, people who are quiet servants in the background of organizations and workplaces are constantly overlooked in favor of people who may put in less work, but are extroverted and visible. If two resumes were submitted, but one was in Times New Roman on thick eggshell paper and the other was in Jokerman on tie-dye paper, which would get the job?

Perhaps I have only encountered stodgy selection committees, but this seems to be the trend I observe. While I have been extremely fortunate in my experiences with applications, I wonder at the message of conformity and aesthetics that we present through these processes. It just seems that we've created a self-perpetuating power structure within these institutions, and I am concerned at the results it may have.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Is growing up just a series of goodbyes?

At the risk of sounding like a centenarian ruminating on ages long past, when did I get so old? This is not to say, of course, that I'm particularly old now, but I just realized that it has been years since I saw most of my high school classmates. I was procrastinating on Facebook today, something I do rather often (and a practice which I think is actually the purpose of the site, but that deserves its own entry) and I decided to scan through all the people from my high school who are on Facebook now at their universities. This, for anyone who is familiar with my background, is not a terribly time-consuming feat, as each graduating class from my high school contains only about 60 people, many of whom are not on facebook anyway. The point is, as I scrolled, I identified a huge number of people that I knew in high school, many of whom I talked to on a daily basis, that I have literally not seen since I left for college. I saw tennis teammates, people from my Physics class, girls from my section in choir, and people I danced with at formals that I have had no contact with in years. This brings me to the question: why?

Why is it that, while I live in a tiny town and return there approximately four times a year, have I not seen these people? It is not an act of conscious avoidance, but I don't spend all that much time at home. When I am there, I spend most of my time playing serious catch-up with my closest friends from high school and enjoying my family. I don't make the effort to see lots of people from high school, nor do they make the effort to see me. And, after much thought and not a little regret at first, I have decided that I'm OK with that.

The irony, of course, is that in my senior year of high school we all wandered around talking about how much we'd miss each other, making promises to keep in touch and stay friends, we even sing songs about staying friends and not saying goodbye. Then, after the graduation parties fade away and the thank-you cards have been written, we go our separate ways and may never see each other again. Sure, there are the occasional IM conversations or Facebook messages, but in truth, it's really over. It's no one's fault, really, it's just a result of the nature of distance and the limitations of time.

So, why worry about it? Because I'm a senior again. I am about to repeat the process of graduating and moving on to another place, another group of people, another social sphere. Inevitably, many of my friendships will fade, like the ones from high school. This saddens me greatly. I know that there are lots of people out there and many more friendships to be made. I know that I cannot live totally in the past, clinging to too many distant friends at the expense of building new relationships. Yet it hurts to consider leaving behind the people who have become my world.

In a very depressing way, it becomes a matter of trimming the fat. As with high school, a few friends will stay close, but many will fade away. Which relationships will be valuable enough to both parties to keep them alive? I had a foretaste of this in South Africa, when only a few people took the trouble to stay in contact with me, and I, therefore, only really kept up with a few of them. But this isn't a matter of a semester from which I'll be returning, this is the foreseeable future.

Goodbyes form a cyclical procession. First you move away from home and friends there, losing touch with many of them. Those friends are replaced by new college friends, who you are very close to for about four years, then depart from, allowing many of the friendships to fade. From there you go for further schooling or various jobs, and with each move, you gain and lose a new set of friends. It's a constant cycle of goodbyes.

On the other side of the coin, though, you get a new set of friends with each move. In every new place, there are more people to get to know, more people to build relationships with. It becomes a never-ending process of loss and gain. However, while contact may not be lost, the impact and memory remain. Even though I'm not in touch with many of my friends from high school, even though my relationships with many of my college friends may fade, I have been permanently altered by our interaction and I will never forget the lessons they have taught me. So to all of you, thanks. I miss you. And, if possible, stay in touch.