Excitement at co-curricular fair promotes over-commitment

If the accumulation of folding tables, excited representatives and colorful flyers from more than 200 student clubs and organizations wasn’t enough to send you into a mental-whirlwind-overload, the aftermath of more than twenty emails the following morning probably did the trick. The “Co-curricular Extravaganza,” as it was termed in my handy Week One Booklet, not only presented students with many opportunities for engagement offered at St. Olaf, but it also brought to light a prevalent St. Olaf characteristic: the tendency to need to participate in everything rather than observe.

This idea is seen in the word “co-curricular” itself. Notice that unlike in other contexts, the term is not “extracurricular.” The Latin prefix “co” means together or jointly. At St. Olaf, activities outside of the classroom exist simultaneously with the learning that happens through professors. It is expected that one’s courses and other involvements will go hand-in-hand.

When Oles participate, they put all conceivable time and energy into doing so. For many of us, this propensity towards often over-involvement is a trait we carry with us from our high school years. Balancing a rigorous course load along with sports, music, volunteering and numerous other interests was common, likely even necessary for our futures.

There are different, yet as intrinsically important, reasons to engage in college activities. Involving oneself is a way to connect with the campus community, create that oh-so-desired sense of personal belonging and, ultimately, craft “the Hill” into a home.

The worrying begins when you don’t know where to start. Which activities/clubs/organizations/teams will be the right fit? And the panic sets in when you don’t know how many of these awe-inspiring groups you will be able to squeeze into your ever-shrinking Google Calendar.

At the 2013-14 Opening Convocation, Student Government Association President John Schwirtz ’14 spoke to this dilemma, offering a veteran’s insight into acclimating to the St. Olaf lifestyle.

“I would like to welcome you and encourage you to be present and engaged in your pursuits rather than distracted or distressed by your hectic schedules,” Schwirtz said.

These words set out better parameters of success. Instead of the “do everything” mentality, perhaps we should accept Schwirtz’s challenge to live in the present. Join the activities and clubs that are doing things you love to do, and if you love to do everything, make sure you don’t assume more commitments than you are able to follow through with.

“[Oles] run the risk of equating busyness with success,” Schwirtz said. Proud of the way we are able to flawlessly, or apparently flawlessly, balance challenging classes with the other aspects of college life, we can lose sight of the bigger picture, a concept that is at the heart of a liberal arts education.

Unfortunately, there is not an outline to follow or an equation to solve that will present a clear solution to mastering the slackline we find ourselves quivering on. Perhaps you are a senior desperately attempting to determine what your future holds or what more you can do to achieve the goals you set long ago. Maybe you are in your first few weeks on campus and are still trying to find the tunnel that supposedly connects Regents Hall with Tomson Hall.

Wherever you stand, the hard-working, ambitious and committed Ole within you will figure it out. It’s all about perspective.

Next year, instead of frantically clasping onto pens to sign up for each and every club that interests me, I will probably approach the “extravaganza” in a different way. With a warm, melty Rice Krispie treat in hand, I plan on strolling along, enjoying the end-of-summer-sun as it dances across my forehead and taking comfort in the fact that at the very least I won’t ever have time to be bored.

Kali Gustafson ’17 gustafsk@stolaf.edu is from Duluth, Minn. She majors in chemistry.