College Is Everything It’s Cracked Up To Be

In his debut senior blog, Stephen Carpenter ’17 cracks wise about the power of laughter in overcoming adversity and sorrow.

What’s up?! My blood pressure.

I am writing this just a few days removed from my large family’s Thanksgiving festivities, and the countless “you’re growing up so fast,” “it’s been HOW long since we’ve seen each other,” and “whose baby is that?” conversations I heard are all too fresh in my mind to ignore. The aunts, uncles, and cousins having those conversations were the same people telling me four years ago that I better enjoy college because it’ll pass me by before I knew it.

Boy, were they right.

I can close my eyes and remember things such as my parents moving me into my dorm and my first NC State football game like they happened yesterday. So, how is it that I am so close to the end of my college journey? How can I, the same silly guy that graduated from Ashbrook High School a few short years ago, be on the verge of a real job? I’m not even sure I know what mortgages and 401k plans actually are, so I am certainly scared at the thought of having to prepare for and manage them. What this terrifying reality has taught me is that all of the cliche sayings one hears about “time flying” and “life passing you by” are true. All of you wide-eyed youths with healthy backs and working metabolisms listen up: college graduation will be here before you know it, so please make the best of your time at NC State. College is hard, and students can easily be swept away with thoughts of bad grades, failure, and simpler things like eternal damnation. Do not let that happen to you. Make sure your time in college is spent smiling and making memories.

How does one do that? I do not necessarily think of myself as qualified to give universal advice (I have countless flaws that psychologists would love to scrutinize), but I can express what has worked for me. I take almost every opportunity available to make light of the situations I find myself in. I go through the day making as many dumb jokes and puns that society deems acceptable. Why? Because, as I get older, I am steadily reminded of just how brutally the world can treat its inhabitants. My quips and jests are attempting to combat that sad truth; they are trying to remind people that humor and positive outlooks are much healthier responses than sadness and withdrawal. In all of my self-righteousness, I would like to think that some of my past jokes have taken people’s minds off of bad grades, money troubles, or sickness. Even if just one of my cherished puns has made someone’s day easier, the countless failed ones were …wordth it.

My attitude on humor has to be attributed to my family, especially my father.

Sometimes, my jokes aren’t really jokes at all. They can be little instances of my day when I see someone acting a fool or when I trip up the stairs–simple incidents that make me smile and remind me there is humor in everyday life. They keep me lighthearted, an attitude the world tries to stymie in so many of us. I relish the opportunity to laugh at the little things, and I think you should as well. Next time you get the chance, laugh at the squirrel that resembles your calc professor or make fun of the guy that flips you off in traffic. Nothing is frivolous if it helps you step away from your problems and put them into appropriate perspectives.

My attitude on humor has to be attributed to my family, especially my father. Dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma my freshman year of high school, and throughout the next four years, my family had to cope with the numerous affairs and happenings associated with his terminal illness. He spent a summer recovering from a bone marrow transplant, had seemingly endless chemotherapy treatments, went through surgeries to repair his shattered bones, put on weight, lost weight–all the while keeping a positive attitude. Had his good spirits not continuously reassured me, my sisters, and my wonderful mother of our situation, I do not think we could have continued on with our everyday lives. Example: One summer when Dad’s health was relatively stable, the family was enjoying a day at the pool. When Mom reminded Dad to put on sunscreen, he replied “Yeah, I wouldn’t want to get cancer.” Some might find the joke morbid, but it kept my family in check. The joke on the surface is funny, so we shared a laugh, but on a deeper level, it reminded us that Dad was not going to be around forever, or even much longer at all. Instead of putting us in somber moods, it was uplifting and reminded us to enjoy every second we had left with Dad.

Every day I wish I could have one more minute with my father; every day I think of something I would like to say to him. However, if I spent his last years clinging to every word and quasi-lesson, trying my hardest to impress him with my opinions, my memories of him would be much different. He knew that any attempt to cram a lifetime of lessons, memories, and conversations into four years would be in vain. Instead, he simply vowed to smile and laugh as much with me and my family as possible. At that time in my life, I never fretted about all of the decades I would have to live without my father’s advice and presence. Alternatively, I lived day to day with him, taking in his humor and happiness. Because of Dad’s good-nature and accepting attitude in the face of death, I will always remember him as one of the happiest and loving people I have ever known.

One of my most beloved mentors once wrote me a note reminding me not to hide behind my jokes. I have made a point to never do that, something that is very easy to do out of fear or sadness. To reiterate: the jokes aren’t intended to mask the truth, they are a reminder that worrying about the truth is a futile endeavor.

As I slide off this soapy box, I want to once again stress the importance of simply enjoying life. My lengthy anecdote hopefully served its purpose of expressing the benefits that a gracious, humor-filled philosophy can provide. We are all part of an uncertain, ever-changing world. Why would we spend our lives angry and pessimistic when we can enjoy it together? A statement I’ve made before is all too relevant to not acknowledge: Happiness is built internally. Do not go looking for it; build it yourself.

P.S.: If you care for a good laugh, ask about the centipede joke the next time you see me.