Last week, in my Children’s and Young Adult’s Literature class, my professor broke our class up into small groups and asked us to identify and discuss a monster that was active at St. Olaf College. She then wanted us to illustrate this monster and describe it to the class. Monsters with names including phrases such as “perfectionism,” “excessively committed” and “overachiever” presented themselves. One particular monster that stood out to me was a figure climbing a ladder, leading all the way to the sky. His face was an expression of unhappiness. Etched on the side of the ladder was the phrase: “Oles Can. Oles Will.”
Thia monster drew a roar of laughter from the class. This event demonstrated how St. Olaf students feel about the statement plastered on the St. Olaf College website and social media platforms. As a reminder to students, this marketing phrase pops up every time one attempts to open a web browser on any campus computer.
Behind the “Oles Can. Oles Will” marketing campaign is a list of accomplishments that St. Olaf students have earned as a collective group on the Hill. As President David Anderson ’74 noted in the 2018 graduation ceremony, the graduating class included 12 triple-majors and 215 double-majors with an average 3.42 GPA.
Truly, St. Olaf students have an impressive list of accomplishments, but the pressure created by such an expectation to add to that list can be overwhelming for certain people. I once heard a student complain about how he felt inadequate for not being a double major. Personally, I feel myself obsessing over squeezing in an extra concentration or major and applying to study abroad programs because I feel I must.
Sadly, St. Olaf is not the only institution pushing its students to work harder and achieve more. Phrases like “Ambition Can’t Wait,” “Unspeakable Greatness” or “Gifted Leaders” are used by universities across the nation and are not too different from our own motto. Many higher education institutions create an invisible pressure on its students to strive for success. It is unfortunate such inspiring slogans can have negative effects on students’ mental and physical health. More and more college students become sleep-deprived, anxious and depressed from attempting to fulfill the success these mottos imply.
Skye Nguyen ’21 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Hanoi, Vietnam. She majors in English.