Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 10.1.2009

Hope, Homework & the Trauma of Composting
Incoming UO students reflect on beginning of college, and life thereafter 
By Rick Levin with photos by Naomi Levit

As autumn finally clamped down Monday afternoon with its bracing breezes, lengthening shadows and besotted aroma of leaves and wood smoke, that familiar collegiate feel began to creep onto the UO campus, and with it a scurrying and gawking gaggle of new and returning students — the future leaders of America — fresh-scrubbed and full of anxiety, idealism and maps to tomorrow’s classes.

In J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey — which gave us consummate poles of ’50s academia — college was either a means of self-aggrandizement or a neurotic journey into self-discovery. To give something that good old college try meant the intellectual equivalent of the spur of Manifest Destiny: a confident and optimistic and presumably successful push into the blessed unknown. But this is the 21st century, a new era of nose rings and ring tones, skyrocketing unemployment and global warming. What is it that your average college student wants, desires, strives for and dreams after in this so-called post-modern, post-racial, post-everything world in which we now live?

The answer is: the same shit, basically. Fulfillment. Knowledge. Earning power. To get distance from one’s parents. To be a success and not fuck up. To make a name for one’s self. And to make it to class on time.

What students want from their higher education is the one thing they just can’t be taught: to be adequately prepared for that battering ram folks like to call “the real world,” to be turned from a cabbage into a cauliflower.

For Washington state native Morganne Hatfield, 18, the real world reared its complicated head before she’d been in Eugene a full week, in the classic form of Emerald City waste-disposal sophistication. The incoming freshman said that in her hometown of Sammamish, everything just goes into the garbage can. “It’s frustrating, because I don’t know what’s compost,” she said, rattling off a litany of designated recyclables above and beyond plain old trash. “That’s the most frustrating thing so far.”

Give it a week.

Freshman Katie Turley, a business major from Southern California, said she found adjusting to her new life in Eugene “very overwhelming,” pointing out the myriad people she’s seeing and meeting around town. “There’s some strange people,” she said.

What about the balance between education and earning power? What’s more important, being a well-rounded, liberally educated citizen or a person chiseled and honed for the workplace? To be crude, is money the driving motivation of college or, as so many would like to believe, is it the hunger for knowledge, the quest for capital-T truth? It’s amazing how many freshman, stereotypically the most vulnerable and naïve class of under-classmen, give the right answer in this regard.

Jane Christen, an environmental science major, said the election of Barack Obama, along with his broad support of “green” technology, might be the harbinger for a shift in our national economy, one opening up new jobs for a workforce trained in conservation and eco-innovation. “I really believe that I can make my mark doing whatever I’m passionate about,” Christen said, adding that making a living and helping out needn’t be mutually exclusive terms anymore.

And so it goes for many students. “I’d rather be filled with knowledge and know what’s going on than have a big paycheck,” said freshman Dave Braithwaite, who is undecided when it comes to his major.

“I’m not really worried about jobs after school yet,” said freshman Julie Cendejas, a business major. “I’m just kind of focused on getting through my first year.”

Journalism major Keri Anderson said that, when it comes to making a living, “It’s important to do something that you enjoy.” Anderson, who co-edited her high school newspaper, said she’s always loved writing and looks forward to “making a career where you can do that every day.”

Joey Brady (aka “Joey Beats”), a double major in economics and math, said that when it comes to the tension between making a living and being smart, “one follows the other, hopefully.” After attending the London School of Economics this past summer, the junior is turning theory to praxis by opening up a quesadilla club, Wraps by Beats, which had its late-night grand opening Sept. 24. “That’s what I’m doing to help the economy,” Brady said. “Bad times call for entrepreneurship,” he said. “Can’t find a job? Start a new one.”

He’s going to be fine. As will international student Lenana Faraj, a native of Kenya who this term is transferring to the UO from LCC. “I really love Eugene. It’s a lovely place,” he said, noting in particular the lack of “monkeys jumping from trees.”

Faraj is majoring in political science with a minor in environmental studies, and he plans on taking what he learns back to Africa. “I want to go back home and advocate for people,” he said, adding that in Kenya “lots of kids don’t have schools” and the country lacks a “clear and transparent government.”

As a member of the Maasai tribe — “one of the only tribes that has kept African traditions and not modernized,” Faraj said that coming to Eugene provided something of a cultural shock. “People here are a lot more concerned with color coordination,” he said, adding that in general there is “a lot more self-expression here than there was in Africa,” especially regarding tattoos and body piercing.

Faraj recently had opportunity to meet the UO’s new president, Richard Lariviere, at a function at the Downtown Athletic Club. “He seemed like a very nice guy,” he said, adding that in the wake of the Duck’s LaGarrette Blount punching incident, Lariviere spent time speaking about the importance of honor and sportsmanship.

“He seemed like a very good president,” Faraj said.


Keri Anderson, sophomore

Major: pre-journalism

On making a living versus being well educated: “I think it’s important to do something that you’re going to enjoy. I’ve always loved to write.”

“I really like Eugene. I think it’s a unique town. I’ll definitely stay in the Northwest.”

Strangest thing in Eugene: “There’s a lot of strange people that hang out by the EMU. There’s always somebody random there.”


Nicole Cisco, freshman

Major: journalism (emphasis on photojournalism)

On the state of journalism and the economy: “I’m hoping by the time I’m trying to make a living it’ll be happening again. I think photography’s about to explode.”

On college: “I’m just really excited to start over, to be in a place where everything is about the school.”


Katie Turley, freshman

Major: business (emphasis on health care)

On the economy: “I think by the time we get out it’ll be better. I think there will be jobs out there. I want to major in something I’m guaranteed to make a living with. I want a job that I’ll love, but I also want to make a living. I think it’s impossible to make a good living if you’re not happy with your job.”

On Eugene: “It’s very overwhelming. So many new people. There’s some strange people.”


Joey “Beats” Brady, junior

Major: economics, with a minor in math

On opening a quesadilla stand on campus: “That’s what I’m doing to help the economy. Bad times call for entrepreneurship. Can’t get a job? Start a new one…. I’ve made exactly 25 cents. Not profit, just income.”


Lenana Faraj, freshman, international student from Kenya

Major: political science, with a minor in environmental studies

“I’m really loving Eugene. It’s a lovely place. No monkeys jumping in trees.”

“I want to go back home [to Kenya] and advocate for people. Lots of kids don’t have schools. I want to advocate for a clear and transparent government.”

On how ignorant most Americans are about the “country” of Africa: “I really don’t blame anybody. Lots of what’s portrayed is unreal. That’s what I’m here for, to bridge the cultural gap.”

On coming to Eugene from Kenya: “There was a huge culture shock. People here are a lot more concerned with color coordination. A lot more self-expression here than there was in Africa. I was kind of shocked.”

On visiting Las Vegas over the summer break: “It was very bright. A very crowded, very hot place to live.”


Dave Braithwaite, freshman

Major: undecided

“I’d rather be fulfilled with knowledge and know what’s going on than have a big paycheck.”


Jane Christen, freshman

Major: environmental science

“I really believe I can make my mark doing whatever I’m passionate about.”

On Eugene: “I’ve seen quite strange things. I got to meet Frog. He’s awesome.”


Caitlin Genrich, freshman

Major: undecided

On education versus making a living: “For me, it’s kind of both, like having a job that keeps you excited. I’m not so concerned about just having a job and paying the bills.”


Julie Cendejas, freshman

Major: business

“I’m not really worried about jobs after school yet. I’m just kind of focused on getting through my first year. Coming to college, I’m going to be prepared for a job.”

“If I end up taking some classes and they end up interesting me more than business, I can always switch. It’s not set in stone for me.”

Strangest thing in Eugene: “There was a fraternity dance and the basement was a sauna steamer. Everybody was just sweating. People were loving it.”

What worries her: “Having enough time to try everything I want to try. Hopefully I can have enough time to try a ton of new things.”


Morganne Hatfield, freshman

Major: business

Life after college: “I’d either want to start my own business, or go into marketing. I want to combine marketing with my creative side.”

Education versus making a living: “They kind of go hand-in-hand. College prepares you for the real world.”

On UW versus UO: “I got into UW but I didn’t really like it there — too big and cliquey. I just wanted to get away and start over.”

Strangest thing seen in Eugene: Outside the EMU, “these old guys in their 60s reciting and yelling stuff. I don’t really know what it’s about.”

Also: “We have to separate all our trash. It’s frustrating, because I don’t know what’s compost. That’s the most frustrating thing so far.”

“There’s so much going on, it’s a little overwhelming. I’m a little worried about finding my true friends here. The past few days here it’s been a little crazy.”

“Go Ducks!”


Back To Campus 2009:

Hope, Homework & the Trauma of Composting Incoming UO students reflect on beginning of college, and life thereafter 

Dress A Duck Winners Announced

Around Town Put down the books and go see Eugene

School Gadgetry Contributing to delinquency