Why Every College Student Should Read Thoreau's "Walden"

Why Every College Student Should Read Thoreau's "Walden"

How questioning everything can help you answer daunting life questions.
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College is all about choices.

Unfortunately, the choices we’re tasked with making throughout these four years can often feel overwhelming or daunting in scope. The simple question: “What major should I choose?” naturally encourages the thought: “Which career path should I go down?” which spirals into: “Who do I want to become?” and culminates with the nigh unsolvable philosophical quandary: “What do I hope to get out of life?”

Coming up with the right answers seems to require an almost inhuman amount of foresight for a young adult. Whether we like it or not, college, as the final rung on the educational ladder, is the time in our life that society has designated for us to confront these questions.

Uncoincidentally, it’s also a point where society, with all its constructs and rules, seems to impress itself most heavily onto our choices. Societal opinion leaks into our decision-making process daily. We’re told what we need out of life. We’re told what is respectable and what isn’t. We’re essentially told how we should live, and it’s hard to feel like it’s possible to live any other way.

We may lock ourselves down a pre-med track even if we lack the temperament for it because that’s what mother wants us to do, or that’s what we’re told will make us successful or garner respect.

That’s why it’s especially important now, against a backdrop of increasing social pressure, to step back and read the most anti-society piece of literature ever written: Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.”

It exudes such an absurd level of angst that it puts Kurt Cobain’s raspy baritone to shame. In fact, it's essentially Good Charlotte’s classic pop-punk hit “The Anthem” except 300 pages in length and eloquent in prose.

Although Thoreau — a 19th century American Transcendentalist and Romanticist — lived in an age quite unlike ours, his work still holds up in relatability and relevance. Like us, Thoreau reached a point in his life where he was confronted with daunting choices and questions. However, he realized that society was the only thing forcing him to confront those choices in the first place.

Thoreau’s response to this realization was “Walden,” a two-week experiment in which he lived off in the woods. Through his writings, Thoreau offers an incredibly revealing look at society – from the outside perspective in. He puts nearly every social construct under the microscope – even some of our most deeply rooted – tears them apart and flips them on its head.

The rich are poor. The young are wiser than the old. Good is bad.

He observes his fellow townsmen, toiling in their respective occupations, and writes:

“Men labor under a mistake… most men are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them… He has no time to be anything but a machine.”

We’ve chosen to live as society dictates, or as Thoreau puts it, “the common mode of living” because we don’t think that there is any choice left. “Walden” tells us that there is always another choice. It highlights the absurdity of society, putting our own lives into perspective and forcing us to question our own place in the world. In the process, Thoreau calls to mind simple truths, seemingly obvious, but eminently revealing nonetheless.

You might be thinking, "How does living in the woods and sticking the finger to society help me resolve any of the pressing life questions I face as a college student?"

Now, I don’t think everyone should escape their problems and go on a lifelong camping trip in the woods. But I do think that it’s important to mentally detach ourselves from social convention every once in a while, take a deep breath, and begin questioning everything around us. As Thoreau said himself:

“No way of thinking or doing, however ancient can be trusted without proof. What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to be falsehood tomorrow…”

In doing so, we can better identify which of our choices are being motivated by public opinion rather than what truly matters—our own personal reflection. Perhaps only then can we make the decisions that are right for us.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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To the guy that shot my brother...

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To the guy that shot my brother,

On January 9, 2019 my families entire life changed with one phone call. The phone call that my little brother had been shot in the face, no other details. We didn't need any other details. The woman on the phone who called us in full panic told us where he was so we went, as soon as possible. I don't think it helped that not even 10 min prior I talked to Zach on the phone.. kind of irritated with him, and the ONE TIME I didn't say 'I love you' as we hung up. Could've been the last time we ever spoke.. I remember pulling up to the hospital thinking 'this can't be real' 'it's not our Zach' 'this is just a dream Sarah, WAKE UP' I'd close my eyes really tight just to open them, I was still in the hospital emergency parking lot. I could still hear the ambulance sirens coming. It was all real.

The day our life's changed was definitely a test of faith. A test of how strong we were, as a family. I sat in that waiting room ready to see the damage that has been done to my sweet baby brother. Because at that point we had no idea how lucky he got. That glimpse of seeing Zach will haunt me forever. How helpless I felt in that exact moment frequently wakes me up from these horrific dreams I've been having ever since that day. That is a moment burned into my me and families brain forever.

You always hear about these things in the movies or on the news, a house being shot up, someone shooting another innocent person, not to care if they died on your watch. But we found ourselves on the news.. We have been confined to the hospital since that day. Running on barely any sleep, taking shifts of sleep so we don't make ourselves sick taking care of Zach. Watching him suffer. Undergoing surgeries, to repair the damage you did.

Before I proceed let me tell you a little something about the man you shot.

Zachary Keith Wright. A blonde hair blue eyed boy. Who could potentially be the most annoying human on the planet (possibly coming from his sister). A man who loves his God first, loves his family second. Perfect by no means, but almost perfect to me. A 19 year old who was to graduate high school this month. After graduation he was prepping to leave for Marine boot camp in the summer.. being in the military has been Zach's dream since he could talk. Literally. Running around, playing war with underwear on our heads, and finger guns. Some would say we looked like natural born assassins.. growing up he has been a country boy. Let me tell ya country to the core. He loves this country like he loves his family. He believes in helping people, taking charge in what's right, and never leaving a brother behind. He's lived by that his whole life. Until now....

The day you shot him. The day not only did you change my brothers life, you changed his families life too. The day you almost ripped my brother out of this world... for what? A misunderstanding? Because you've let something take ahold of your life that you can't let go you're willing to kill someone innocent over? Luckily for him, his guardian angels were protecting him in your time of cowardice. There were 3 times that day he should've died, the time you shot him, the time you tried to shoot him again as he stared you directly in the face, (even tho he couldn't talk I know you could read his eyes, and he still intimidated you. That's why you tried to pull the trigger again) and the time he was running out of the house. But he lived. A man who was shot in the face, didn't lay there helpless, didn't scream in agony. That MAN walked to the neighbors to get help. Why? Because he's a MAN, and because he's on this earth for a reason.

It's gonna sound a little strange not only to you, but the audience who is reading this. I must say thank you. Even in this situation, this was the best outcome we could get. He gets to live. He will make a full recovery. He will graduate. And he will go off into the Marines. You united my family together. Closer than ever. Thank you. You tested our faith and brought us closer to our God. Thank you. Because of your moment of weakness, you showed us what prayer could do. Heal anything. Thank you. This was a bump in the road, and a helluva way to kick off our year of 2019. But here we are.. all laying in the hospital. I'm looking around as mom is sleeping in her recliner chair exhasted but still here, Zach his awake playing his xbox all hooked up to machines, fighting to heal and get better. And of course I'm writing this letter to you.

See you in trial,

From the girl whose brother you shot.

'Fight the good fight' - 1 Tim 6:12 🤟🏼💙

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23 Things That ~Barely~ Run Through A Girl's Mind During Her First Workout In, Like, Forever

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