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Years Later: Is College Still Fun?

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At the end of this week, I will travel four-plus hours to attend my 20th college reunion.

In honor of that, I am going back to the spring of 1994 in the New York Times to see what was going on in the world.

For the moment, forget about Bill Clinton and the NHL playoffs (yes, they were actually a big deal in 1994).

I am talking about a story that's a perfect way to begin reunion week: a guy suing his former school because his roommate was rude and partied too hard.

Boy, am I glad my freshman roommates didn't have litigious natures.

On May 26, 1994, there was a colorful story about Robert M. Babula who filed suit against Albright College in Pennsylvania.

The charges?

I won't go into legalese, but it was basically because his freshman-year roommate was too drunk, too loud and too abrasive.

Translation: Half of American college students put up with the stuff he thought was worthy of a lawsuit.

I am sure it was a horrible situation for Mr. Babula. He ended up transferring to another school. Yes, Albright seemed to have ignored his pore-frosh questionnaire (as Amherst did mine, too!), and sure, they didn't move him when he wanted out.

The school basically said: Suck it up.

The student said: I'm suin'!

I didn't exactly get along great with Mike and Sean in my cell-block like two-room triple, but I was more annoying than criminal.

I was coming out of a strict boarding school environment, and was just amazed that I could actually skip a class without being punished. My proverbial social-life wheels came off to the tune of contracting (hold on, now) mono by Christmas break.

By February, I was in a new dorm with a single bedroom, and I was on top of the world. That is, until I was harassed in much the same way Mr. Babula must have been.

I basically relocated to the Animal House of my college, and no weekend would be complete unless an upper class "friend" chanted my name on a Fisher-Price microphone at 3 am until I responded.

For some reason, that one sticks in my head.

"Shhhaaaaaackman.... Shaaaackman!..."

I won't go into all the incidents I experienced that fall within the spectrum that ranges from offensive to potentially illegal. It's not worth it for me, and perhaps, you wouldn't even find them that funny.

My basic point is that we've all been there.

My thoughts are also drawn to the non-nostaligic fact that as I prepare to return to my alma mater, I know it's a different place.

It is not just because the football team is better than it was or that you actually need an ID to drink alcohol at a campus party. It is not because I have gray hair and that some of my friends now have kids getting ready for college.

It's that I have grown up, and to some degree, the college experience has as well.

My sense that college is a much different place is one part nuance, one part gut feeling and one part observation.

It is a feeling that even the small liberal arts colleges aren't just quiet academic havens where you can hide, thrive and grow in somewhat of a vacuum.

Students are much more laser-focused on the future, and the present isn't as much a big deal.

You bust your tail in high school to get to an elite college. Once there, you align with the right professors and do whatever necessary to gain access to the best internships.

That has been the case for many ... for a long time. It simply seems that the percentage of the collegiate population that fits that profile is far higher than twenty years ago.

Maybe it's a good thing, but there are clearly far fewer "undecideds" these days.

The result looks like a decrease in academic experimentation, and students seem to commit to career-focused work much earlier.

At most schools, if you switch majors, you basically start over. That means more semesters ... and more money. The former might be appealing, but the latter is a major problem for a demographic already saddled with student debt.

I might deem the lost art of being an undecided as a negative because I, myself, was a bit of a wanderer, with no clear idea of what I wanted until several years after graduation. I guess I was neither mature enough to see what most of my classmates were doing -- getting to classes, making good grades and working great resume-building jobs in the summer, nor was I smart enough to follow that model.

I treaded water academically, and spent much of my summertime as a camp counselor. It seemed a fun thing to do for a person in no way prepared to commit to a career path.

Right now, I see high school students every day through my wife's job and also have a lot of friends who work at the college level.

From all that I see and hear, people still party and go out socially in college ... it just doesn't seem as fun.

It seems more done for the re-issue of the so-called fun -- on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or for a while, Snapchat. The actual experience may be less important than the postscript and interpretation.

Or , I am totally projecting and inflating what college was like for me as I mentally prepare for meeting my classmates as we enter middle age, eat lobster and swap stories about travel soccer.

I wonder what Tinder would have been like in 1994 ... and I hate travel soccer.