Casler: Merely a Means to an End?
By Don Casler, Staff Columnist
Published on Tuesday, June 26, 2012
As I groggily emerged from my post-meetings slumber last Thursday, I hit the snooze button on my alarm and scanned through my blitzes. At the top of my inbox was a message from Career Services with the subject line “INTERNSHIPS,” which encouraged me to set up my DartBoard account. Over the next two days, I received three more blitzes informing me about forthcoming resume and cover letter workshops as well as recruiting information sessions and interviews. Starting 12X off right, I suppose. Oh, Dartmouth, you are so laughably predictable.
Indeed, corporate recruiting season is nearly upon us, which means Dartmouth’s unique, sometimes awkward and oft-criticized relationship with the private sector is once again up for examination. I won’t spend much time lamenting the much-ballyhooed brain-drain of Ivy League graduates to corporate America — a column by Andrew Lohse ’12 in this paper last summer did a fine job in painting a scathing, if melodramatic, portrait of the annual summer scramble for employment (“A Corporate Stranglehold,” Aug. 2, 2011). Instead, I’d like to share a fresh perspective on the “real world” that I gained during my off-term this spring.
Two elements of my time away from Dartmouth stand out with respect to the corporate recruiting debate. The first is my internship at the Brooklyn district attorney’s office. It was a humbling experience, to say the least — I commuted an hour to and from the office each day, and I was thrown into a completely unfamiliar environment in which I was expected to learn on the fly. My job was also brutally boring at times, to the point that I briefly considered quitting and re-enrolling here for the spring.
Looking back on that dark hour, I have realized that I was most bothered by the fact that I was completely cut off from the fascinating currents of knowledge that converge around a place like Dartmouth. I love to talk about this school and college in general as a total experience — a cultural institution that fosters tremendous learning and personal growth. But at work, I was performing menial tasks that required little creativity or insight, let alone the level of critical thinking or self-examination that I know is expected on this campus. Ultimately, I sorely missed the vibrant personalities and academic rigor that make Dartmouth such a unique community.
My second realization came during a conversation with my friends over interim. We were discussing sophomore summer and corporate recruiting, among other things. One of my friends stated unabashedly that his goal was to make a lot of money and that he would probably end up as “some corporate lawyer schmuck.” I then asked my friend if he enjoyed attending Dartmouth for the experience or simply viewed it as a means to an end. He favored the latter in his response.
For me, a crucial part of the college learning curve is the development of your personal standards — the constantly evolving moral framework that governs how we live. Evidently, not everyone sees it that way, nor am I saying that everyone has to. But does that reduce your Dartmouth education to a series of means-ends calculations?
If you are like most people, you probably fall somewhere in between the extremes of attending college for what it will get you versus attending college for what it will teach you. And you might even be wondering how to most productively apply your talents to the problems of the world. It is simply resource allocation, as columnist David Brooks noted in The New York Times last month.
Or is it? As Brooks went on to argue, we have become freakishly proficient at describing the world in purely entrepreneurial, profit-maximizing terms but often lack the ability to consider the profound depths of morality. We are so well-trained to analyze that we convert “questions about how to be into questions about what to do.” The important point, then, is what the continued allure of the corporate world says not only about our individual means-ends calculations, but also about the businesslike framework to which we defer when evaluating decisions.
So what do you want your experience to be? Can you justify that to yourself? I’ll leave that one up to you.