Fucking up at Bowdoin really isn’t easy. Scratch that. Fucking up at Bowdoin is really easy. Talking about it is the hard part.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re applying to colleges, the rating sites use this statistic: “percent of students that graduate in five years?” Never made sense to me. It only takes four. Could that many students have had existential crises and had to skip town for a year to pose for pictures in Africa?

Now I get it. People fail sometimes. Plans go awry. Shit hits the fan. Even super successful Nietzschean mind controlling supermen make mistakes occasionally.

It’s hard to admit that despite our best efforts, sometimes we fail. Not in the professional sense: a bad grade, a flubbed interview. Sometimes we royally fuck up in our life choices. We unequivocally do the wrong thing. We screw over our friends. We crash cars into Druck. Drink ourselves into the hospital, and then binge again two weeks later. Plagiarize the heck out of the kid one row up and to the left in Molecular Biology. Add fuel to the gossip machine fire. 
I’m not here to tell you or myself it’s okay. It’s not okay. It’s wrong. There’s a reason they call them mistakes, and there’s a reason they come with consequences. 

We should own up to our mistakes, but there’s not always a lot of space at Bowdoin for that. Make a big enough mistake, and the Judicial Board will make you disappear like an Argentinean dissident faster than you can say Videla. Violate your professional integrity? Don’t worry about a public apology. Your name has already been erased from the directory, your desk packed up. 

Those consequences are usually deserved. That’s not the controversial part. That’s part of the social contract Locke, Hobbes, and Barry Mills theorized to keep society in order. 

The problematic part is what it means to exorcize every major mistake from our midst. The tricky part is how we talk about fucking up at Bowdoin.

If the worst mistakes get you banished to Azkaban, what happens to the smaller mistakes? The little slights between friends, acquaintances and rivals from New Jersey. 

It’s almost as if we’re trying to pretend that no one makes mistakes. Yet everyone knows everyone’s business at Bowdoin: who slept with whom and who fought with whom. So what we end up with is a lot of private one-sided conversations about other people’s transgressions.

“How could they have done that? Everyone knows that’s wrong,” we may think, or say to our friends. But maybe none of the gossip is true, and maybe all of it is. 

For the most part, judgment serves a purpose. It reinforces the negative consequences of bad behavior. It ostracizes the bad monkey from the group because he’s been stealing our food. The flaw in this dynamic occurs when we stop turning our critical eye inward. 

Our moral compasses fail  us when we judge everyone else, while refusing to acknowledge our own failings. The only way we can maintain the legitimacy of our moral compasses is to admit the times we shut the lid and do whatever we please. 

If you can’t admit to your mistakes, it’s nearly impossible to become a better person. And it’s hard to admit them in a place that punishes mistakes swiftly and silently. Why would you want to share your shortcomings when we have a hundred well-staffed student organizations preaching the right way to live your life? 

Be a hypocrite. That seems rather unavoidable, given how imperfect we all are. But we should at least be knowing hypocrites. We can only criticize the mistakes of others if we are willing to criticize our own as well. 

The reality of the situation is that we’re all going to do some damage. Sometimes we can’t even say sorry. But we have to stay the course. We have to take responsibility for our errors, and we can’t do that without acknowledging that mistakes happen—big ones that get you kicked out and small ones that tarnish friendships.

We come to college to learn. No matter how many classes we take, mistakes will always be our best teacher. 

If we’re still pulling the same shit at 40, it’s time to raise the alarm. At 21, it’s a little bit of a different story. So maybe it’s enough to ask, hey Bowdoin? I fucked up. Let it slide?