The epic story of how college prepared me for today’s world over 20 years ago

I attended Wagner College in Staten Island, New York from 1991 to 1995, with the unique combination of majoring in theatre and attending on a golf scholarship. Even though I turn 40 years old this year, and I am still paying off student loans, I can honestly say, “I am glad I went to college”. Furthermore, I firmly believe the generation of tomorrow that believes college is out of the question or too expensive, is missing something they will regret and never truly know why, or if by chance they do realize opportunity has been lost, they will not have the time or energy to go back to school.

There are hot-button topics in the media today, that I honestly look at and wonder to myself, “What is big friggin’ deal, and why haven’t we grown out of this yet, or done anything about it?”.  I am referring to topics such as:

  • Same-sex marriage
  • Interracial parents in advertising
  • Homosexual athletes or “coming out” stories
  • Unemployment and poverty
  • Religious debates and terrorism
  • Violent content in media
  • Immigration
  • Marijuana legalization

I can honestly say all of the above were topics that I “got over” by 1996, and by that I mean, “I do not have to think about where I stand on these matters, nor question my own beliefs, and I have patience with those who have a hard time with change.” I also never complain by saying, “That person is sooooo mean to people.” My time in college, both living life on campus and attending classes, gave me an education in “how to handle myself as an adult” in the future. Please let me explain, and I will be as entertaining as possible to keep your attention.   I promise!

First point: I would not have gotten over such topics, if not for the people I met, ate lunch and went to class with, or even lived with in their dorm rooms. I will also mention one possible regret I do have, that helped me to appreciate college even more. Now…

Same-sex marriage

I grew up Catholic in an Irish family, and at age 18 went to college where I majored in theatre. I am straight. For most of the ’90’s people who stated they were straight, would finish with, “Not there’s anything wrong with that.” They did a whole Seinfeld episode on it, and to me…there is nothing wrong with same-sex marriage. In theatre, I worked with men who dated each other, and their relationships looked just as real as anyone else that age. There were fights, drama, make-ups, break-ups, and yes…sex.

At age 18, it was new and a bit scary to me, I admit, but if I did not go to college and learn, I would have stayed hidden in my own little world where I believe everyone should be like me. In spite of my fear, those I went to school with were very accepting of each other, so for me to run around quoting the Bible, would have made me a bigger target of hatred than those gay couples who wanted to be married, as far back as 1991. To see them announce their marriages on Facebook in 2013 is just wonderful. It’s about time.

Interracial parents in advertising

I have no idea why people exploded over the whole Cheerios campaign ad, or paid any attention to Youtube comment trolls.

In college, the sexiest couple on campus were a black male football player, and white female basketball player. I do not remember their names, but let me tell you, they looked like they could run a kingdom. Only an idiot would tell them, “You should not date because you are interracial.” This was in 1992, mind you. I looked up to this couple with respect, admiration, and as a couple, just used to think, “Damn…I wish I could be like that.”.  There were many interracial couples on campus, and I just left school thinking, “They are people. What’s the big deal?”.

Actually, after college, I toured the United States and worked in Times Square as a DJ. I found that my “race-neutral” attitude had to be turned off in some states for safety reasons (bad to flirt), but for NYC it was perfect. I am that way because of my time in college. I am married to a black woman, and maybe only dated one white woman in my life.  Btw…There have always been idiot racists. We are all descendents of stupid people, but college helps us put things in perspective.

stevenwendy

Me and the Mrs. :)

Homosexual Athletes and “coming out” stories

Let me just say…The ONLY reason this is still news is because the majority of straight people in the world are a***oles. For all the people I went to college with that “came out of the closet”, and were met with parents or lovers disowning them or breaking up with them in anger, all I had to see was the pain in their eyes to figure out, “This is ***ucked up.” In fact, it reminded me of the 1970’s when divorced women were suddenly no longer welcome in the Catholic church. To hate someone for being true to themselves is just disgusting. In fact, while in college I even knew of a few athletes who experimented with homosexuality, among many other things that made them more “freaky” than homosexual.

Ironically…the physically strongest men on campus could not admit what they were, but the 125 lb tap dancer had the strength and courage to be honest with themselves. The fact that they were on campus with others, gave them a great support group or safety net to process these emotions, before hitting the real world. Back in 1991, people came out of the closet for themselves, and not to get on Reality TV. One last thing on this…The first time a man hit on me at age 18, I turned red-faced and did not know what to do. Luckily, I had a friend and teacher who sat all of us down to talk about it. This can only happen in college. When it happens now, I take it as a great compliment. I do admit though, that at times in college we tried to force beliefs down people’s throats, such as naming an intramural softball team of theatre majors “Damn Straight”. College is definitely a better place to come out, while surrounded by a safety net of others still learning or dealing with the pain of rejection.

Unemployment and Poverty

This one is simple. If you want a group of friends for your entire life, who do what you do for a living, you need to go to college and live on a campus with them. I chose to go into acting, and it is not an easy business. The people I met in school are still people I communicate with, and help out whenever possible. The people you meet in college are your network for life, and when you are down and out, they will be there for you. Each one of the people in the slideshow below has helped one, or many of their fellow alumni, get work. For those in entertainment, I am just proud as hell when I see my friends on television, movies, or in the credits of something.  These are “real” friends; not Facebook marketers or mouse-clickers. I have only been unemployed once since 1995, and I always had friends helping me out when I needed it. I would do the same for them in a heartbeat, and they know that about me.

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Religious debates and terrorism

Many forget that there was a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center nearly a decade before 9/11. It was just as scary. In college, no one was ever being singled out for their religion, be it Muslim, Christian, Catholic, Hindu etc. In fact, a group of my friends were known as “The God Squad”, and they went to church every Sunday. Oh, and they still had homosexual friends, or friends who were Athiest. There was something about college buddies that if you knew they really cared about something, you left them alone and let them do it. I have seen such maturity dissolve over the last 20 years, but it still remains a part of me.

Violent content in media

Do you know I still remember the day I walked on campus and saw OJ Simpson running from the police in a white Ford Bronco? The one thing I started to see change in the 1990’s was that news programs began to see how sensationalism leads to viewers. While in college I had the chance to watch new cable news networks report on the Bosnian War,while watching with two foreign exchange students who literally watched their neighborhoods get destroyed on live television. They were basketball players, who came over to the United States to go to school. In fact, the two of them became good friends with me, and were the first to really show me that the world is really small. We are all responsible for what we watch on TV, how we feel about it, and how we respond to it.

Basically, I learned in college, “If you do not like violent media, do not watch it. You will see how it changes the way you think when you stop exposing yourself to negativity.”  In fact, some of the smartest people I know today, refuse to watch anything other than comedy, or cartoons. As for the people I went to school with, we just loved being silly on camera. Many times…that maybe all the “violence” going on; kids making jokes. Here are my friends and I in college:

Immigration

All I can say is that I attended college with people from Russia, Japan, Bosnia, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, India, and the United States. This experience with “people” helped me land my jobs at ESPN, a DJ in Times Square, AIG, and Voice123, where I worked with people from Egypt, Colombia, Russia, China, Korea, Thailand and England.  The deal is this…college helps you learn how to communicate and network globally, or at least it should. In my college years, it certainly did by having me live on campus with them long enough to realize, “Oh, they are good people…and some are idiots.” I very much became “people neutral”. I even played on a softball team with two short baseball players from Japan, who simply were the best players on the team. I just cannot fear people because they are from a specific country.

To give you a simple statement, if I had to write Immigration Policy for the US, I would have it like this…Is he/she a good guy policy? “If the person has a criminal record of either stealing, lying, cheating, or any other form of crime, they cannot be allowed into the United States. If they commit such crimes after arriving in the United States, they must go back.”

I know…it is simple. But I really have no problem with where a person is from, until they start breaking laws of basic human decency.   My Facebook page is littered with photos of all these great people I have met because of college.

Marijuana legalization

Hey…people have been trying to make this legal for DECADES, and I learned in college exactly why it will never be legalized: Over 55% of the people in prison in the United States are there on drug offenses. Good luck trying to tell the very lucrative professions of prison systems, corrections officers, staffing, contractors, and yes … drug dealers…that suddenly 55% of their business is going away. If anything, my history classes from college taught me that we are more likely to legalize it, and then make it illegal again, after it is discovered why we made it illegal in the first place. I also learned in college that I will not smoke marijuana because it screws with my head, makes me want White Castle burgers, and makes me very angry (not paranoid), and it was only a “contact high”.

College is the place to experiment with being stupid, along with friends to help you realize, “Yeah..we should not do that after college, but now is ok.” Get that out of your system while in college. We know it does not kill you, and you can still be president, too. :P

The one regret I can never take back…

For my entire time in college, there were people who were attracted to me, but I decided I would remain so career-focused that I would not let something like “sex” get in the way of success. In truth, I was afraid of getting someone pregnant because a friend of mine had a baby when she was 15 yrs old, and I knew others as well who became teenage mothers. I thought, “Wow! How easy is it to get pregnant! Sex is bad.”.  However, a friend of mine told me one day at age 18, “Steven, you do want to realize later in life that you could have done so much more. If a woman is attracted to you, you should at least date.”  I ignored the advice, and many years later at a reunion party, a woman told me, “So many people wondered what you would be like in bed!”, and I thought, “Dammit! Why didn’t anyone ever tell me!”.

So…maybe I regret that I did not spend as much time discovering women in college, but that is ok because I am happily married now. However, my wife loves me for being smart, and given we are an interracial couple, I am not sure I would have been as willing to date her, if I did not go to college.

All I have mentioned in this blog post relates to the importance of the social interaction that takes place when one attends a place of learning, and chooses to live there, as well. The experience of acquiring knowledge and application of knowledge for four years straight, is something everyone should experience. Social media and online universities simply wont provide the same life education that a learning institution can.

I still pay for my student loans, yes, but I am a better person for attending college, and it prepared me for today’s world over 20 years ago.

4 responses

  1. Steve-o for president. Smart, honest, and helpful…thank you for sharing

    1. Hey Jarrod! Thanks for being such a great friend to attend college with!

      1. Jarrod Cafaro

        I wish I knew what I had then. I was running scared and never stopped to learn and grow. You were always wonderful to be around, if I never told you! But truly, whatever it was, we all went through it together.

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