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Friday Slide Show: Santa Barbara City College Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

13 March 2020

We have been visiting Santa Barbara since 1970 but we'd never set foot on the campus of Santa Barbara City College until two weeks ago. Whenever we passed by it, we'd take a peek at its signature architectural feature and drive on.

That feature would be the tall, steep stands built into the hillside bordering the stadium. To avoid obscuring the view of the ocean, there's no separate stands across the field for the visitors. Everybody has to get along.

But on our recent visit we had some time to kill and the urge to take a long walk so we set out from the Mesa and wandered along the waterfront until we got to the crosswalk at City College.

It's a climb to get to the top of the stadium and the edge of campus. We'd argue you have to be young but we managed it and we're not as young as we were in 1970.

If you follow the cliff toward the city, you enjoy some spectacular views from a somewhat overground garden of various species. From there we wandered the campus where the tile roofs of the large, modern, white buildings echo the style of the area. White wooden pergolas connect the buildings in an encouraging way. As if there were a path to follow.

Write a college entrance essay to Yale.

We can't imagine a more stunning location. And we can't imagine a better place for a college.

We know a high school junior who plans to attend. We gave him some advice during our visit. Write a college entrance essay to Yale. Or Harvard. Or Michigan. OK, even Stanford.

We're not a little dismayed to hear, over and over again, parents of this generation (with whom we completely sympathize in this era of predatory student loans) steer their kids to community college rather than absorb the cost of a university when the kids "don't know what they want to do."

It's an unfair criteria.

They used to know what they wanted to do. Astronaut, cowboy, doctor, nurse. Then they got wise. The world is full of possibilities. Retail clerk, valet parker, food services employee, greeter.

College offers a moment in your life to stretch your mind rather than contract it. Life will contract it. Call center, retail clerk, secretary, salesperson.

But in college you can read Plato. You can sit in a room of people your age and say what you thought after a few pages of John Stuart Mill. You can sit in your apartment in front of a keyboard and write an essay on some poem by Yeats that helped you realize something.

In 1970 we went to the University of Calfornia at Santa Barbara. In our two years there before we transferred to the Berkeley campus, we took courses from some of the most remarkable people we would ever meet. Those courses were introductions to each professor's life's work that we were able to follow and learn from long after we left school.

There was Herbert Fingarette whose Self Deceit still rings in our ears. There was Raghavan Iyer whose brilliant lectures are still, like his intensely colored dress shirts, burned in our brain. There was Hugh Kenner who would slip a paperback out of the side pocket of his tweed jacket to bring Yeats to life for 50 minutes. Among others.

They had awakened in us a curious mind.

And Berkeley provided even more remarkable people to inspire us. Like Paul Alexander, noted Byzantine scholar; Mario Soldati, who had directed dozens of films and published dozens of novels; Robert Bellah and Ann Swidler who had broken new ground in the social sciences, among others.

We bought the books, we discussed them, we wrote papers and took tests but the real work was to come in the years ahead when we followed what these teachers were doing.

Don't think this life-long study was all pie in the sky. We learned how to make a solid furniture joint reading Kenner, how to make a good apology even when innocent from Fingarette and from Iyer how to rise like lions after slumber, as Shelley said, "in unvanquishable number."

We didn't leave school "knowing what we wanted to do." But we learned how to do anything.

A curious mind is not a mind full of acceptable answers to routine questions. It's a mind full of compelling questions. It has the tools to navigate the implications of those puzzles, cutting a new path through the overgrown chaos that leads to some opening, some sunshine, and the music of some brook.

Write the essay, kid. Take a flyer on yourself.

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