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Shirk Your Summer Away

Veena Thomas

Spring break, the long-awaited preview of summer, has ended. Next comes the big question: what are you going to do this summer?

Many adults have idyllic memories of spending summers lying in a hammock with a stack of comic books and a tall glass of lemonade. Did that ever really happen, or has time’s soft-focus lens fuzzied the picture? Such relaxing summer vacations seem improbable at best for today’s youth. In the many families with two working parents, children get dumped into day care or get shipped off to camp as soon as the school year ends.

Summer camp -- the old favorite standby of many a child. Even this has changed over time. An incredible variety of camps exists, offering something for everyone. Sure, kids can still go swimming, kayaking, and make countless friendship bracelets from plastic lanyard. However, they can also learn to become better Christians, make movies, study math, lose weight, and become models, perhaps even at the same camp.

Many universities now offer summer programs for junior high and high school students. Once just the mark of a few elite universities, offering summer programs has become an easy way to make more money during the otherwise slow summer session. The mailboxes of preteens become flooded with unsolicited mailings from colleges offering courses in everything, from archaeology to Greek. Many students take such courses not out of interest, but in an attempt to bolster their college applications. Often those students from wealthy families can afford to take such (usually expensive) courses summer after summer. Sometimes high schools give credits and placements simply for having taken such courses, regardless of performance -- in essence, allowing students to buy their way out of required classes, an opportunity not available to those not as well off.

These universities are only feeding off of the latest trend for students to have “productive,” educational, worthwhile summers. There’s little downtime for kids to simply enjoy themselves, relax, unwind, and enjoy the summer for what it is. There are far too many structured, planned activities. How can children learn to entertain themselves if they are always handed an itinerary of events for the day and never have time to spend alone? These kids are probably the ones who grow up always complaining of being bored and having nothing to do.

What about older preteens? So much for summers of mowing lawns and baby-sitting. Kids these days spend money at an alarming rate. And so, many look for serious jobs as soon as possible to earn serious cash to be blown on clothes, CDs, and other necessities of being a teenager. Yet to some, it doesn’t seem to be enough to simply work at a mindless summer job. Says one guide to getting into college, “Thinking of working at McDonald’s for the summer? Think again.” It goes on to recommend that all high school students take courses over the summer to improve their chances of being accepted to the college of their choice.

Another option, the guide says, is landing an internship to gain more experience. This applies to most of us, as we mail out countless resumes with perfect, dynamic cover letters in hopes of landing that dream summer job.

Only by having excellent summer jobs and padding our resume will we ever amount to anything, we believe. But won’t we have plenty of time to join the corporate rat race after graduation?

There’s something to be said for mindless summer jobs. Witness Kevin Spacey’s character in “American Beauty.” After growing unhappy with the rut that has become his life, he tells off his boss and virtually asks to be fired. Remembering how much he enjoyed his job flipping burgers one summer as a teenager, he submits an application to the local burger joint. He winds up with counter duty, and is happier than he has been in years.

So, what are you doing this summer? Do whatever you want to do. Three months is a long time to be stuck in a job that you hate, but which might appear attractive on a resume. Why don’t you avoid responsibility? Take a summer off to spend as unproductively as you like. Enjoy life. You won’t be able to get away with it when you get older and have a family. It might sound crazy, but remember: you’re only young once.