Society has interesting names for people who decide they want to do the same thing forever. Some positive, some not. We have “terminal bachelors” (aka George Clooney) and also “old maids” (aka librarians, sadly). We have “eternal optimists” and “eternal pessimists,” “career politicians” and those who will “go down with the ship.”

But what about the eternal student?

There are positive versions of this, of course: my grandfather was a member of a Life-long Learning program, and he had earned more credits in his lifetime than anyone in the history of the University. He had studied in some way at colleges all over, and out of, the country. But he also held regular jobs at the same time, so maybe we can’t exactly put him in this category. But should we?

While browsing around, I came across this interesting article titled “How to become an eternal student,” (source) in which the author poses theories about the different types of students:

“Most often when one refers to an eternal student the automatic assumption is that of the Truly Dedicated Eternal Student. This is often a student who has chosen random and rather bizarre course work. You most often find these students among Classical Studies or History students. The reason is simple. No one cares about those majors except the people in them. Who really needs to major in Sanskrit anymore? It’s a five thousand year old dead language. So students of these types of majors can always find something old to study and claim the need to study that fully before they move into “the real world”.”

And this is where I really started to chuckle:

“These students can always find something else to study because the stuff has been around so darn long. Since no one cares about these studies anymore these students are free to hide is the sunlight-deprived coroners of dusty libraries and remain free from responsibility. The major difficulty in being a truly Dedicated Eternal Student is to lie convincingly enough so that the parents, friends, the university, and financial supporters all believe that the student needs to remain ensconced in their studies.”

And I cannot deny that there is some truth in this. As a medievalist, and a student of Latin, there is a definite scorn from some people out there – the beauty of it being that the scornful ones usually don’t have a clue about such topics, so you can project an atmosphere of learned intelligence that tells them to back the f*&# off.

And then we come to the next type:

“The Multiple Degrees Eternal Student is a nefarious schemer. This student is the only eternal student to ever actually earn a degree. And not only do they earn one degree, but they earn several. The primary goal of this type of student is to have more letters after their name than in their name. They will earn a BA and a BS and an MA, MS, MPH, JD, MBA, MD, PhD, DrPH, and on and on and on. In some ways this Eternal Student is the most talented and most conniving of all Eternal Students.

Not only must they posses the intelligence and talent for earning these many degrees but they must convince others that they actually need these degrees. The danger, however, in being a Multiple Degrees eternal student is that, unlike other eternal students, these individuals have actually completed acceptable levels of education. At some point their financial support will revolt due to the immense financial burden these multiple degrees impose and the student is generally told to go ahead and utilize their degrees. The best counterattack to this type of difficulty is to be educated out of any possible job and so, after a brief interval, return to higher education.”

Hmmm, this is dangerously close to the conversation I’ve been having with myself lately, upon nearing the completion of my current degree. Something along the lines of, “maybe I should go to law school…” And let us not deny that along with the ability to bullshit in prose that comes with an English degree is the ability to bullshit others into thinking  that all the money spend on said degree is well-spent, and that you would be wise to spend more. Nefarious scheming, indeed.

The article closes with this piece of wisdom:

“The privilege of Eternal Student-dom is not to be taken lightly. At no other point in your life is it a) acceptable that you not know what you are doing b) normal for people to give you excessive amounts of money and c) expected that you will do dumb things.”

Now my question is, is this article serious in it’s admiration of students, or is it mocking their very existence? I can’t help but wonder if eternal students were ever respected culturally, or always viewed as some sort of self-fulfilling characacher.

There is a tendency to believe that school is not “the real world.” But what is the alternative; “the imaginary world?” Sound more fun, in my opinion. What does the “real world” offer you? Whatever it is, we need Prozac and Ambien to deal with it.

If I can make a living out of living in the “imaginary world,” you can bet that’s where I’ll be. And it seems to me that most people worth knowing will be there too.