Do you recall that agonizing moment in television history when the beloved halls of Bayside High School gave way to the surprisingly well-furnished dorm rooms of California University?
I remember it well. I was 12 years old and regarded the desultory “new” Saved by the Bell, subtitled “The College Years,” as an affront to all that was good and right in the world. At Cal. U, there was no sign of Lisa Turtle’s fashion sense or Jessica Spano’s proto-feminism. The previously undefeated A.C. Slater started getting his butt kicked in wrestling matches. And worst of all, despite his engaging charisma and dashing good looks, the great Zack Morris not only failed to impress his professors but also began to strike out with the ladies. In short, college had ruined my childhood heroes, and I wondered why anyone would subject themselves to the crushing disappointments of university life.
Not surprisingly, NBC canceled the show after just one season. And yet, corny melodrama and horrendous theme song aside, I think the lessons of the Saved by the Bell transition became startlingly relevant to many of our lives.
I, for one, was genuinely humbled when I came to the U. Now, I knew I was no Zack Morris, but a week on campus convinced me that I made Screech Powers, Bayside’s resident super-geek, look like Miles Davis. I was a complete unknown. I called my mom between classes. I even drove the family van to school. Worst of all, I spent my entire first year undeclared. I knew that having a major meant knowing who I was and what I wanted and where I was going, and that without one I was both hopeless and pathetic. (Obviously, I had internalized some of that Saturday morning melodrama). I became self-conscious and painfully introverted, challenging the notion that no man is an island. I scurried like a frightened puppy from class to class, searching frantically for my own elusive purpose.
Luckily, I got too caught up in my education to ever find it. I took U.S. National Government and prodded myself out of political apathy. I took Environmental Biology and started riding the bus. I took Communications 1010 and stopped saying “um” all the time. Eventually, I even chose a major that I loved, English, which allowed me to indulge my idealism at least as often as my cynicism. Little by little, I began to realize that my purposes were many, and that when it comes to goals and aspirations, one is a lousy and limiting number.
Just consider the astonishing array of interests and achievements represented in this room. Whether in physics, business, philosophy, or computer engineering, none of us has made it this far without working hard toward big dreams. I have an especially deep respect for those students who may be a little past the “typical” college age, who may have never seen an episode of Saved by the Bell in their lives, and who bring such wisdom and experience to the classroom and to the community.
In fact, throughout my experience at the U, I have met hundreds of students and faculty members of all ages and backgrounds who have amazed me with their intelligence, their integrity, their commitment, and their humanity. People who blasted holes in my admittedly limited perception, then filled me with understanding. People with whom I agreed, disagreed, related, debated, rallied, railed, and persevered. People who have helped make this university a place in which higher learning can move freely about, blowing the lids off inquisitive minds and etching indelible lessons into the substance of our souls.
After all, I was in Orson Spencer Hall on 9/11 when I felt my heart melt like acid into my stomach. I watched CNN war coverage every day at the Marriott Library. For four years, the University of Utah has been the vantage point from which I’ve struggled to come to grips with the world around me. And I’ll be honest with you: I’m a trifle apprehensive about leaving.
They never made a Saved by the Bell: The Post-College Years, or The Successful and Fulfilling Long-Term Career Years. So it’s somewhat sobering to consider our graduation. But at the same time, imagine the possibilities now that so many of us are about to be so gloriously undeclared.
So I hope you took advantage of your time at the U. I hope you’ve found something you’re passionate about and that you’re up to your ears in it. I hope you’ve met people you’ll never forget. I hope that you work hard, that you play hard, that you expect a lot out of life, and that you smile at yourself in the mirror, knowing you’ve created a monster. I know I have.
—James VanDyke BA’04 is currently in post-college limbo, staring studiously at a practice LSAT.