Sunday 8 March 2020

The University Likened to an Orange

The question of the utility of a university education came up after Mass today, and as the situation did not include the youngster going into debt or any other evil, I found myself vigorously defending Academia.

I encourage all gifted, intellectual teenagers to consider the University to be a kind of orange. The orange has a very attractive appearance, and it is true that many student mistake the beautiful and aromatic rind (scores of handsome young members-of-the-opposite sex, the parties, the booze, the drunken dancing on the quad at midnight with your best pal Trish) for the fruit (see below). However, it is the fruit that counts.

The fruit of the University consists of its glorious resources: the lectures, the libraries, the language labs, the science labs, the gardens, the concerts, the plays, the practice rooms, the recordings, and the experts--both the older, experienced experts, who are professors, and the doctoral candidates who, despite their disheveled appearances, know more about (at very least) their thesis topic than anyone else in the world.

There are also the clubs, and I think these should be considered resources, too, if they involve some sport or skill, like debating or chess.  Clubs that involve your philosophy or religion will be not just a resource but also a haven. I cannot imagine any Catholic, let alone a traditional Catholic, attempting a social life at the University without recourse to Catholic Chaplaincy or the Newman or some other place where likeminded Catholics gather.

Young people who share your core values are going to be your lifelong friends, and they are also the also the people with whom you are going to share wine and nachos (I'm thinking of the UK, where the drinking age is 18) at midnight while sharing what you've learned or arguing whether or not phenomenology is incompatible with Thomism. These late-night debates are, by the way, your part of the aromatic orange peel. The peel does have its place, just as orange zest has its place in cookery. In fact, let's call these intellectual and spiritual friendships the zest.  With God's help, you can avoid the inedible white part--the hangovers, drama, mortal sins, and cultural Marxism--completely.

But don't forget what the orange is for: the fruit. Go to University with a clear goal in mind, whether to prepare for future medical studies, or to equip yourself for teaching Latin and Greek to homeschoolers, or to become completely fluent in two Modern Languages. The University has laid out a banquet for you: go in and eat it all up.

P.S. When I was an undergrad, people would sigh "I still don't know what I want to do" as if this were not deeply shameful. Know what you want to do when you go to uni. Adjust your plans later, if you must, but don't go in expecting to be entertained.


  1. I'm an American who attended a secular college. We had the option of requesting a family from one of the local parishes to be our home away from home. So I normally had a ride to and from mass and sometimes ate dinner at their home. More colleges and universities should offer this. I volunteered to assist teaching with CCD and RCIA at the parish as well.

    We didn't have anything like a Newman Center because of how very tiny the school itself was. We had less than 350 students and a small percentage were Catholic. I knew at least some apologetics before going away to school and knew resources to go to if I needed them.

    I prayed, watched EWTN, read works that nurtured my faith, participated in the online Catholic discussion forum Phatmass, and wrote essays on my faith for some assignments.

    God called me to start a club on campus to promote chastity. I initially resisted, but over time it became clear that that was His will. On one of the nights that my college showed the vile V-Monologues in the name of empowering women, my club offered a free viewing of a chaste romance film.

    One of my friends later confessed that before she met me that she had a negative opinion of Catholics since she had been around hypocritical religious people. She didn't convert, but I did at least start her down the path of not stereotyping by giving her a positive example.