Letter to the Editor: Extracurriculars are not just resume bullets

While I agree with many points within Alexandra Huang’s column regarding the organic nature of opportunities in life at Northwestern and beyond, I am struck by how indicative this column is of the level at which activities on campus have been co-opted by pre-professionalism. Extracurriculars at Northwestern have ultimately become, in our minds, means for us to get ahead. We think to ourselves: “If I join this club, take this class, make this team…I’ll get a job.” This ideology is held by so many students at Northwestern, and creates a competitive environment where we are all striving to do more, achieve more, and be more. And, we’re all overburdening ourselves in the process.

Huang’s piece, at first glance, seems to refute this mindset. But a closer read denotes the struggles of yet another Northwestern student attempting to place herself and her personal achievements within Northwestern’s achievement-based framework, with the piece’s references to prestigious opportunities and leadership positions as indicators of success. There’s nothing wrong with that, and there is also nothing weird about it: Northwestern is composed of some of the best students in the United States and across the world, and it’s only natural that we all strive toward greatness. And, for many students at Northwestern, striving for things like club memberships and internships is just an extension of a lifelong commitment to personal excellence. It all makes loads of sense. I just wonder if we’ve all lost ourselves along the way.

I agree with Huang’s point on going at one’s own pace, but find it invalid that the metrics by which she measures “going at one’s own pace” are related to accomplishments and achievements without any reflection of their meaning or personal impact. Using empty, corporate terms to describe takeaways from our many endeavors at Northwestern does not replace the many aspects of personal growth missing from the extracurricular commitments of many students on campus. Being the editor of this or the director of that does not denote valuable personal growth. I’ve learned this through a relentless chasing of those types of aforementioned titles, ultimately leading me to question myself about what I actually learned through the process. The only way for us to grow as individuals through these commitments is to find enjoyment and growth of personal values through what we do on campus.

The way to change the culture of involvement at Northwestern is not through rejecting clubs that seem broken or pre-professional or anything else. And, it is certainly not through rejecting all activities at Northwestern entirely. Rather, I feel that campus involvement should be meaningful and personally impactful. Extracurricular involvement isn’t just something to write about on a résumé or Daily column for credibility; the things you do on campus should be things that you genuinely enjoy and do for the sake of personal growth and enjoyment and not for personal profit.

There are so many opportunities to do just that on campus that are often overlooked. We complain often about the competitiveness of clubs on campus, but would that be a problem if we all stopped to think and started joining just the clubs that we are passionate about rather than the ones that we think will best suit our professional experiences? Imagine how much happier we’d all be if we just focused on our personal passions rather than the bullets on our résumés.

Let’s stop trying to get ahead, and let’s start trying to make ourselves a little happier.

— Patricia Tang, Weinberg College Class of 2020