Liberal Arts, or the Art of Schmoozing

Cassel Lessinger

I don’t really want a job, nor am I participating with my fellow classmates in the epic journey that is the job search. I still can’t figure out why anyone would want to be anything but a little kid when they grow up. My parents always taught me to pick role models. When I was younger, first I wanted to be an astronaut. Then I saw Apollo 13, and wussed out. After that, I wanted to be a construction worker like Tim Allen on my favorite part of Home Improvement, “Tool Time.” Being from Chicago and watching MJ, Pippen and Dennis Rodman inspired me to think the NBA was a virtuous career choice. Once, when I was watching the tree repair men cut down a tree in front of my house, I was convinced I wanted to be the guy who pushed tree limbs into the shredder. How cool it was to see wood chips flying. But now, I just want to be Tommy from the Rug Rats. Or maybe a leg model, armed with David Hasselhof’s thighs and Will Batson’s calves.

The truth is, I’m as scared as ever. The college experience remains finite, dwarfed by the eternal future of responsibility. I am not even a responsible person. The scariest thing for me is that I may well not have learned a thing in college. Worse, what if the fermenting sauce filling my brain has eroded the sheer magnitude and capacity to which my brain actually functions? Is it possible that I may well have gotten dumber in college?

Maybe its because I am a senior. Maybe its because the stunning realization of a not so promising real world lurks ever closer. For me now, it feels like there is more academic work here than in past years. Or maybe that’s just because I never want to do it. Late nights are spent in Club Case (and not like Hoyt Thorpe going to the library to hit on chicks in my all time favorite book: Tom Wolfe’s I am Charlotte Simmons) rather than the Jug, ‘Gate Cards replacing V.I.P. Cards, because it’s seemingly more important to check out books rather than babes.

To fathom any morsel of intellectual progress, it is prudent to deconstruct the content of my educational experience — from the virtues of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle to the sick realities of Freud’s libido and Oedipus’ “Complex,” to Descartes who doesn’t believe anything.

But is this crap even relevant. The other day my professor took numbers away in my math class, the absurdity of which, by the way, is akin to taking words away in English class. We used elephants instead of numbers. And this isn’t Ionesco’s Rynosorous and theatre of the absurd.

Thank goodness my experience at Colgate has been multi-facetted. Link staff has taught me how to use icebreakers. As social chair of my fraternity and president of the Inter-Fraternity Council I learned that at Colgate, loose morals are a virtue. During my stint on the student Conduct board I realized that Hobbs, Locke, and Jefferson got it all wrong thinking modern natural rights could work. At Colgate, it seems unquestionable that we innately harbor an affinity for vice. No liberty here, only freedom to follow our loins. Out with Plato, moderation just leads to boredom. What about primeval identification and the great eastern thinkers? Like Confucius, who for some reason failed to make an appearance in my Core China class. And finally, believe it or not, as a senator I realized the Student Government Association does about as much as your local DMV. God forbid the knitting club not receive SGA recognition.

The most amazing thing is, that in the end my most important learning experience took place when I thought I may have wanted a job. This was back in the day as a sophomore (once upon a time I was a go-getter) sitting in Chip Schroeder’s office he praised the gods of networking. Not fine arts, or art history, or even liberal arts, but a more esteemed art, the art of schmoozing.

This art is not sold at Sotheby’s or Christies, not displayed in the Louvre, Tate or the Whitney, its mastery not learned within the confines of the academic quad, but rather on Broad Street, listening to “feel good favorites.” Ya know, maybe I did get some culture in college after all. Now that I know the Greek alphabet I will finally have the pleasure of reading Ovid. Too bad I never took Russian, I would love to know what Raskolnikov had been thinking.

The art of schmoozing as a legitimate form of art is parallel not in content, but in kind, with fine art and comic books. I will leave college with absolutely no marketable skills, but that may not really be what matters. Educators view the liberal arts education as the culmination of civilization’s great thinkers.

It seems like the most important thing I have learned here is how to hang out with people, to be comfortable in unfamiliar situations, to be confident in uncertainty and genuinely excited by novelty and the prospects of change. What’s most useful is an acute awareness, a familiarity, with those intangible objects that guide relations among the inhabitants of our world.

When I was working in the real world this summer, I was told “plagiarism is the strongest form of flattery.” I bet no one’s ever taught that at Colgate. But what I did know was how to respond, when to laugh, when not to judge. As an intern this past summer I was “the dartboard,” the “barbarian,” compared to the likes of Sylvester Stallone. Yet my success (questionable) was a function, not of my academic studies, but my ability to interact with genuine enthusiasm amid unfamiliarity and uncertainty.

So why is it so important to assign so much work? That’s not my business. But why do it? It just seems like all this work is getting in the way of my Colgate education. In the end, the good news is we can choose. And no matter what, if we choose to go out, the work will always be there in the morning. But if we choose to work, that Monday night is gone forever, and our time here is finite.