Groundhogs, Pigskins, and Wing-ed Cherubs

Ah, February.

As you know, it started last week, and even if the calendar wasn’t enough of an indication, there are plenty of other signs in the air heralding the arrival of the fun-sized month: groundhogs exercising their talent at advanced meteorology, bowls of the super variety being broadcast across the airwaves, preparations for impending romanticism with the aid of flying Greek infants, and undergraduates scurrying from table to table at job fairs, leather portfolios firmly in hand. All clear hallmarks of February: Week One.

Well, I guess that last one may be more of a U of I specific phenomenon, but a sign of the season to those who live here nonetheless.

Anyway, having navigated the characteristic Illinois half-slush-half-ice-slippery-frozen-death-trap equally as representative of the arrival of February the other evening, I found myself in the ceramics computer lab, finishing a lab report into the wee hours of the morning. Naturally, to combat the slow but certain mental fatigue associated with making sense of graphs and equations and “why aren’t these numbers coming out right” moments, I took to conversing with a friend of mine who also happened to be in the lab at the time. Over the course of the conversation, it was revealed that she would be working at Boeing over the summer, having herself put in the time talking to recruiters at the aforementioned job fair (well, one in the fall. But still). We spent a few minutes discussing where she would be living, what she would be doing, and all manner of other related things and then came the inquiry: “So what are you up to this summer?”

“Oh, I’m riding my bike from New York to San Francisco to raise money for cancer research.”

Since the presence of the Illini 4000 on campus is actually rather significant, she had already heard of the organization and knew what we were about, so then came questions of how long it would take and things of that sort. While she remained un-phased by the response of “70 days,” such a response is far from typical. What’s instead more common is a slight recoil of the head, not unlike when you get jolted awake, accompanied by a widening of the eyes and a low murmur of “wow, that’s a long time.” On a few occasions, inquirers have followed up with a “so, you’re not working this summer then are you?” Obviously, the response in such cases is “no,” but I never gave it any further thought until the other day.

Juxtaposed against the masses of our peers chasing and stressing over employment opportunities, it seems odd at first glance that 27 of us have decided to forgo that route and spend the summer on the saddle of a bike. It’s certainly a minority of opinion to ignore the idea of getting work for the summer. But while it’s plain to see the suited-up students passing out resumes, I never took time to consider a large group of students you can’t see. Students who had their education, their careers, and everything else cut short because cancer got in the way. Then suddenly even having the choice whether or not to track down a job this summer seems nothing short of a luxury. And not just that: casually turning on the super bowl, reading about Punxsutawney Phil’s verdict, or even having to clutch on to a nearby railing to avoid landing face first on a patch of ice, seems all the more significant by the virtue of having the opportunity to experience them.

So I guess I’d like to think that by deciding to ride across the country instead of sitting at a desk, we’re leaving a chair open for someone that never got that far. And I suppose it’s not really true to say we’re not working by riding this summer, it’s just not work in the normal sense. We’re working for the kids that never got a chance, and to ensure that one day they all will.

Comments (1)
  • cfee Casey Fee says:

    Ben,
    This post is awesome. I already am looking forward to this summer to read about it from your point of view. I remember telling people about I4K and I’m sure you’ll be getting used to it too. As for not getting a job, you will be learning more about life, people, and yourself than any internship can offer you. I loved your last paragraph and ideas about this summer.
    Good luck!!! Can’t wait to hear more.
    Casey F

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