Stop undermining Oakton

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The other day in one of my classes, we were discussing college applications and someone expressed their exasperation with the process by saying, “I’m giving up and going to Oakton.”

In the heat of a stressful moment, it’s by no means rare to find a typical New Trier student’s fears of failure and existential crises manifesting in comments about folding their cards, peacing out, and going to Oakton.

In case you’re unaware, Oakton is a two-year community college completely legitimate, and often an ideal college option for many students.
The most obvious reason that students attend community college is the financial advantages, since it’s less expensive. It’s not uncommon for people to attend community colleges for 2 years and then transfer to other schools.

Students are also attracted to the flexible schedules and chance to have more freedom to explore career and study choices.

A pervasive misconception about community college is that it puts you at a disadvantage in life. But many people including actor Tom Hanks, community activist Dolores Huerta, director George Lucas, and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers have all attended community colleges and have spoken out about its impact on their careers and their lives.

I understand the way a stressful moment can exacerbate our most profound fears and that jokes like these are a sort of coping mechanism and might even elicit a laugh.

But in making derogatory remarks about Oakton, we’re handling our rational fears about the future through a sense of superiority and propagation of an irrational stereotype that schools without prestigious reputations are not valid places to attend.

The bubble we live in is run by college hierarchies, and Oakton is seen as the lowest rung on the ladder. By making jokes about it, we’re invoking its perception as a place of low standards to comfort ourselves. At the same time however, we’re undermining all the reasons why it is a desirable option for a lot of people.

The ability to have high expectations for yourself in the first place, while it can feel stressful, sometimes, is a privilege. And high standards themselves are neither inherently good or bad. But they become detrimental when they are not fully realized as privileges because this prevents us from maintaining a broader perspective.

Throughout our lives, this emphasis on reputation and prestige has been instilled into us by well-meaning parents, media, and societal pressure. These influences aren’t in our control, but we can control our responses to it.

We can be conscious of how we’re talking about college because we never truly know who’s listening, what their circumstances, are and the way it might make them feel. Not only with community colleges but with all colleges. We wouldn’t want that to be done to us, so why should we do it to others.

We should also change how we think and talk about community colleges for our own benefit as a way of extricating ourselves from stereotypes and judgement and as a way of maintaining our own sanity. Living here, you can get trapped into thinking that you deserve something more than Oakton.
Receiving an education of any kind is a gift that we should feel lucky to receive. And the more thankful we are, the happier we’ll feel and the less likely we are to succumb to the weight of college stress that makes us say those things in the first place.

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