This week's widely discussed article in The New York Times details the extent to which the day in, day out "stress" of college life has apparently overburdened average students, many of whom feel enormous pressure to be "perfect" if he or she is to have any hope of success after graduation.
At times, the stress of college does become too much to handle. At Bowdoin we are fortunate that the school's small size and engaged administration offers a comforting and understanding environment for those whose emotional and physical well-being are threatened by genuine stress.
One wonders, however, if we have allowed the culture of therapy to encroach a bit too much on what have traditionally been normal rites of passage for students. While the competitive nature of today's society has increased the stakes for success, receiving a poor grade on an exam or facing the routine pressure of finals week does not warrant intervention on the part of counselors and massage therapists. On the contrary, the hardiness developed from personally grappling with such stress should be welcomed, for it will be indispensable after graduation.
Most college students lead extraordinarily privileged lives. For four years every basic need is provided for-food, shelter, and plenty of opportunities for intellectual and personal growth, to say nothing of the ultimate and invaluable end result, a diploma. Many young adults not in college lead lives whose "stress" factor makes our tough workload and competing pressures seem like a walk across the Quad. Men and women our age often find themselves in dead-end jobs with few prospects. In parts of the world, people our age have reached half their life expectancy. And thousands of Americans our age are in the line of fire in Iraq.
We say this not to provoke guilt but to offer a sense of perspective. We may feel overloaded with the pressures of exams, papers, social situations, and career prospects, but in the grand scheme of things, we are certainly among the less burdened. And that is worth remembering from time to time.
There is good stress and bad stress. We are confident that outlets exist here for people who are truly overwhelmed by stress. But for those simply wrestling with the daily grind of college life and its consequences, however, rest assured that it is natural-and that we will be better graduates for it.