Staff Farewell by Jesse Nickles

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a junior in high school. I woke up to see my mom staring at the small television we had in the kitchen, totally speechless, as the Twin Towers stood smoking on the screen. I managed to murmur, “What happened, Mom? What is this?” in between the disbelieving commentary of the news anchor, but my mom couldn’t respond. She drove me to school as we listened to the radio, trying to recall any information about the things being mentioned over and over: terrorism, extremism, Islam, bin Laden…
The tragedy of 9/11 rocked America’s perception of the world. It was the tick on the timeline of our country’s history that scholars had been waiting for since the end of the Cold War. In one moment, it trivialized many of the everyday worries of the average American and launched us out of a small box of post-war pop culture and into an infinite analysis of the human existence.
There is no doubt that we live in a new age. As the Homeland Security Department and greedy pharmaceutical companies spur on fear and loathing, we as academics, we as Americans and we as citizens of the ever-modernizing world seem to forget the simple, honest, rational, philosophical, beautiful and humorous parts of life that are not downloadable or broadcast-able or deductible. Instead, we continue to be carried away by a new wave of “-isms” and emotion-based ideologies.
The fact that I entered college as this new age arose is, perhaps, coincidental. The truth remains that the generation to which I belong has an immeasurably important commission, the depth of which the world has never before seen.
There are many things that might dissuade this generation from pursuing greatness. Among them is Tom Brokaw’s famous book “The Greatest Generation,” which seems to cede the trophy to those in history; or the generally sour view of ourselves perpetuated by the masochistic self-hatred of wannabe liberalism; or the fact that these days, most young people are cowards who lack any unique skill set in our postmodern, Eli-Whitney society of interchangeable humans whose sole (un)motivator is hopeless relativism.
But over the past five years as a UC Irvine undergraduate, I have realized that it’s possible to flourish (read: survive all the bullshit and come out inspired) while staying true to yourself, even within the mass-educated, politically-correct, media-driven, fear-of-being-sued corporate society that has overtaken not only American culture, but American universities.
I considered starting my college experience by applying to UCLA as a black man majoring in gay and lesbian studies, mostly out of boredom and mockery of the times in which we live. When I decided to send a few applications (with a purposefully retarded-sounding admissions essay) to UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego and UCI and was accepted to UCI, my life took quite a twist.
I spent the first few years at UCI hiding in my apartment and driving home on the weekends, assuming the Irvine area was boring and that there weren’t many people worth meeting. From these bad decisions, I learned to never assume, especially when your assumptions are based on others’ jaded perceptions.
During my first quarter at UCI, I enrolled in Writing 39B with TA Chandra Garber who was probably the craziest, most stuck-up lady under five feet tall that I will ever meet. She hated me from the get-go, mostly because I was tall, white and had a slightly more accomplished writing style than my classmates from Torrance, who didn’t even know how to use spell-check. Needless to say, she gave me a C on the basis that most of my essays were “convoluted.” Thus, I took up a grade appeal with the School of Humanities.
Fast-forward two and a half months, when I finally received a reply from John Hollowell (Director of Composition) and Carla Copenhaven (Course Director of Writing 39B). After a lengthy e-mail exchange, they told me that they had investigated my grade appeal, and their findings showed “no reason to change [my] grade.”
Now completely fascinated with this joke of a higher education system, I went to talk to Mr. Hollowell in his office (by invitation), demanding to see written proof of their investigation and the reasons for their conclusion. He responded by refusing to answer, standing up and forcing me to leave his office. He stated that I was banned from ever visiting his or any other humanities staff offices ever again and implied that if I ever attempted to do so, my student status at UCI might be jeopardized.
I went on to Writing 39C and received the highest grade in the class (woo hoo). Three years later, I received a surprising e-mail from the School of Humanities, asking to include one of my New University articles (“College Degrees Have Become Meaningless”) in the Writing 39B curriculum due to its “especially useful” nature.
And you’d never guess who was making the request: none other than my old friend Carla Copenhaven, who had apparently forgotten who I was. From this experience, I learned that the old maxim, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” is quite often true. I also learned never to accept anyone else’s condescending view of your character or abilities and to never, ever let anyone tell you what you are capable of, especially those who think that they are teachers or role models.
Obviously, my time at UCI began on a note of dismay and bitterness. It wouldn’t be the only valuable learning experience to cross my path during my five fun-filled years at UC Bren.
During my second year, I got involved with a well-known campus group called Campus Crusade for Christ, which was supposedly a great community service organization. A few weeks later, after asking too many questions and not following their international Web site standards while assisting them with a Web site at UCI, I began receiving threatening cell phone calls from national leaders of Campus Crusade in Orlando, Flor. and was apparently blacklisted from their system.
From this experience, I realized that many contemporary Christian groups that seek to take the place of local churches (yet lack any accountability, especially on college campuses) are quite often blasphemous and hypocritical.
During the fall semester of my third year, I studied abroad in Spain and took the following quarter off to travel around Europe by myself during one of the coldest winters of the past 50 years. From this experience, I learned that Europe is not nearly as progressive and insightful as it is perceived to be; that most Europeans are kind and hospitable (except for Germans and Parisians); that McDonald’s is one of the most adaptive and amazing companies in the world (free bathrooms and free ketchup—can life get any better?); and that America is truly the biggest envy of the modern world.
When our UC advisor, a political science professor from UCSB, left in the middle of our program to do “research in Mexico” for a month, I also realized how bureaucratic and two-faced the UC system has become.
Near the end of my third year, I assisted in the first of my two Associated Students of UCI election campaigns. From these experiences, I learned that UCI will forever be a mostly apathetic campus of too-cool posers because of the school’s design and reputation (but mostly because of postmodern American culture); that Greeks will always control ASUCI because they are the only kids at UCI desperate and stupid enough to think campus politics matter here (slash, they won’t ever give up on their dream of a Greek Row); that candy and a smile usually go much farther than obnoxious chants or wearing black bras under white shirts; that MEChA and the Cross-Cultural Center will always try to force student fee increases on students to pay for the anti-American conventions of Chicano and Muslim students; that green is a great marketing color; and that college politics aren’t worth getting involved with if your only justification is strengthening your resume.
During my fourth year, one of my best buddies studied abroad in Russia, met the girl of his dreams from UC Berkeley and was married and on his way to Europe within a year. From this experience, I realized that life is ridiculously unpredictable, and that we should not sacrifice the relationships that are important to us out of fear of the unknown or because of the criticism of others. I also learned that our time with friends and family is fleeting and that we should always make the most of it —just like Hallmark has been trying to tell us for years.
During the same year, I started a petition at UCI to enlarge the introductory drawing, painting, sculpture and photography classes offered by the School of the Arts. I couldn’t figure out why UCI’s campus tour guides promise incoming freshmen that the art school offers classes to all students when the introductory classes only have room for 12 students each quarter, which are almost always reserved for art majors.
But of course, I should have known that the worlds of college and art are not venues for asking questions, as the art school threatened me with a lawsuit if I didn’t stop circulating the petition. They cited me with an infraction on UC policies, claimed that I was “interfering with the administration of the university” and demanded that I stop immediately or I might be kicked out of UCI (not again!).
This experience reinforced my opinion that art is dead due to the bullshit nature of postmodern higher education and that the true champions of artistic expression on college campuses are the physics and sociology professors (among others) who offer courses in art and photography and their relationship with science and logic. Anyway, I’ve been waiting for a year and half for the Dean of the School of the Arts to return my e-mails.
In the summer following my fourth year, I spent six weeks studying abroad in Korea. Admittedly, I didn’t learn much from this experience. But the food was pretty damn good—when it wasn’t dog meat.
During my fifth year, I was hired as the photography editor at the New University Newspaper. It’s been tiring as hell, but it’s been rewarding. During my time at the New U this year, I’ve met many staff and faculty members and have realized how inconsistent their attitudes and intentions are; I’ve honed my photography, reporting and editing skills; I’ve met a handful of famous people and realized that they are just like everyone else; I’ve learned that key aspects of managing a team include proper delegation, clear communication, planning ahead and documenting everything on paper; I’ve assisted in the arrest of a drunk, belligerent professor; and I’ve had to visit the Dean of Judicial Affairs to appeal getting kicked out of UCI yet again because of allegations that I had not been cooperative in an investigation by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity.
From these experiences, I polished my ability to work with a wide variety of colleagues; I observed the dos and don’ts of business and management; I realized that advertising is the cornerstone of modern capitalism; and I’ve been disappointed yet again with the immature, politically-correct nature of this thing we call college.
Over my last few years at the New University, I’ve worked on many different editorial pieces that have offended nearly everyone on campus—pieces on Islam, global warming, Campus Crusade, postmodern art and the UCI School of the Arts, the Geneva Conventions and Iraq, the religious history of America, the UCI bike policy, ASUCI and its ridiculous habits, American culture and more.
I’ve received hate mail from as far away as Germany and the United Arab Emirates and continue to receive weekly e-mail updates from various Muslim groups that label me a “bastard” on their e-mail mailing lists. I don’t particularly enjoy the fact that so many people now hate me, but I am proud to have engaged in debates and discussions with so many intelligent and retarded people.
When UCI failed to provide a venue for intellectualism, I pursued debate and critical thought on my own and was rewarded on a personal level. (UCI Department of Earth System Science, I promise that all 22 of your graduate students who signed a public refutation of my anti-global warming arguments will be thoroughly embarrassed within a matter of months!)
From these experiences, I’ve learned that it’s possible to be good friends with the people you disagree with most; that most sheeple are unreachable and unaffected by rational debate and critical thinking; and that humility goes a long way but an apology goes even farther. More than anything, I’ve learned that something must be done to shift our culture away from label-happy mass education and toward critical thought. But perhaps this crowded street to Damascus will yet reveal itself…
I could go on, but what’s the point? My time at UCI has felt like a long, personal critique of the UC system and the American university, but also an up-close-and-personal observation of the cultural and social norms that are driving our country and the world. One thing is sure—all the knowledge and wisdom (or lack thereof) that I’ve accrued over the last five years has not been due to direct contact with professors or teachers or preachers, but rather through the indirect conclusions I’ve made and the life skills and lessons that have been born out of surviving in such a large pile of bullshit.
But of course I speak in controversial generalizations. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the various passionate groups and individuals that have shown me particular patience and kindness: (The Academy), The New University staff, International Club, Center for International Education, Student Affairs (Sharon Salinger, Leslie Millerd, Cindy Love, especially), Dean of Students (Sandy Winslow, Steve Tajiri, Edgar Dormitorio, Melissa Camarena, especially), the cute, skinny Vietnamese-American counselor in the Humanities Counseling Office (perhaps the only non-cyborg in the School of Humanities), Muslim Student Union and all the Jewish clubs, ASUCI (except whoever stole all the New University issues after we criticized the retarded POWER initiative), the Anthill Pub staff, all the people who’ve supported, Lindsey Goldstein (the only helpful social science counselor I’ve ever met) and the very few other individuals that I’m forgetting who actually tried to foster a positive, balanced, intellectual experience at UCI.
Here are the people I still despise even though they sharpened my critical pencil: the UCI Department of Earth System Science, Campus Crusade for Christ and its cronies, the UCI School of the Arts (minus a few cool peeps, you know who you are!), UCI School of Humanities (minus a few cool peeps … get out of there!), the graduate student from China who studied biology but was my TA for social science statistics (God only knows what your name really was), the girl from Korea who was hired as a grader for an upper-division social science writing class (How is that even legal?), all the douchebag Greeks I’ve ever met, MEChA (I will never trust you), the tall, disgruntled secretary guy in the Social Sciences, all the indifferent and condescending professors that infest UCI who should go research how to be smarter and less self-patronizing, and whoever else I’m forgetting.
My mom always told me, “To whom much has been given, much will be expected,” and I’ve taken it to heart. I hope and expect that the UCI community will continue to improve as the years go on because we have truly been blessed with much.
Our generation has to face untold issues in the globalized world in which we now live, and without strong convictions, a sense of American pride and a pursuit of simple beauty and critical thought, we will not be able to live up to our destiny.
Farewell, UCI. Fare thee well.