My college graduation date draws near, and this fact has caused me to reevaluate the past four years of my life — how I’ve grown, changed, matured, and possibly disappointed my parents. Certainly, book-learnin’ had its benefits. Eight semesters wiser, I anxiously wait for any opportunity to offer my limited understanding of the Upanishads, prisoner’s dilemma, and triglycerides under the guise of the ever-confident post-grad. That’s worth the money, right?
Perhaps. But as I sat alone in my campus’s bustling student union, eagerly picking chunks of oozing tomatoes from my ready-made BLT wrap, the context of my surroundings dawned on me and arguably the greatest lesson college has to offer finally registered: It is socially acceptable to eat by oneself.
It seems so obvious, but four years ago such a scene would’ve been unacceptable. The high school lunchroom is the epicenter of social activity Monday through Friday, 8AM-3PM. Focus is not on the plates of steaming FDA violations served half-heartedly by burly lunch ladies, but rather who is sitting with whom and where. I never strove to be the coolest kid of the public school system, but I sure as hell didn’t want to be the lamebrain coddling an undersized carton of orange juice all by his lonesome in the corner.
Yet, for some reason, this fallacy of lunchroom politics dissipates within the hallowed halls of a beer-soaked university. Seemingly, something happens after one has been handed a high school diploma and forced to sit through yet another valedictorian quote Robert Frost yet again. Seemingly, people stop caring.
Perhaps the food has something to do with it, acting as a diversion of sorts. Once reserved for those aforementioned steaming FDA violations, plates now bear, by golly, pretty decent food, and multiple helpings of clumpy mashed potatoes quickly absorb what little concern its devourer has for the on-goings of his or her cafeteria cohorts.
Or maybe the undergrad is just too busy. Indeed, the college life is a demanding one. Here the lunch break is a pit stop — not the high school exhibition of slack-jawed alpha male antics and overindulgent Bratz doll glamor (or lack thereof). And with just about every friend running on a different schedule, the average Blue Book consumer inevitably faces the situation of eating alone.
(I would say maturation plays a role, but after witnessing a gaggle of goons tear urinals from the wall of my freshman dorm’s bathroom in a Coors-induced rampage, I just can’t bring myself to do so. At least not during the freshman year.)
Regardless of the cause, this invaluable lesson is learned in college. I’ll certainly keep that in mind as I walk across the stage to receive my diploma next week amidst the backdrop of polite, forced applause from scores of other parents. I’ll remember that as I lug my belongings northward in a sputtering U-Haul, all the while pondering the direction of my post-grad journey as I search for each and every passing-town’s classic rock station. And on the first day of my real world, big boy job, when coworkers invite me to sit with them during lunch in the break room, I’ll accept the offer — but only after thinking, “Hey, asshole, I went to college. I can eat by myself, thank you very much.”