Just as Vonnegut and Maslow struggled for purpose at Cornell, we students find ourselves weighing profits against passions, exchanging dreams for the promise of a steady, well-paying job and a predictable future. Unless your passion truly lies in computer science, biology, economics or pre-law, the choice comes down to becoming a careerist or following your true aspirations at great personal risk.
So much of the stereotypical American college experience, as it’s packaged in pop culture and the memories of nostalgic alumni, seems to be wrapped up in anticipation — and sometimes the romanticization — of dysfunction. Even in the age of hyper-attention to self-care, college remains a bubble in which it’s normal, even commendable, to do things like pull successive all-nighters in the name of work or push passions onto the back burner because they don’t fit our notions of productivity. Staying up all night to study is presented as evidence of a strong work ethic, rather than an unhealthy last resort. At Harvard, students in the class of 2022 were even asked to complete an online “Sleep 101” course, designed to help them develop healthy sleep habits in an environment as “competitive and busy” as college. It is particularly within the context of any work hard, play hard environment, where opposite and sometimes incompatible extremes regarding school and going out are expected to exist simultaneously, that a lot of unsustainable behavior is necessitated.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. ’44, former Sun assistant managing editor and associate editor, will forever be remembered by members of The Cornell Daily Sun for his lasting contributions to and his praise of this newspaper. Vonnegut spoke at The Sun’s 125th anniversary dinner in September 2005 in Manhattan; his speech can be viewed here.