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僕は(米国)大学生になるために生まれてきた


僕は大学生になるために生まれてきたような人間である。

起床は11時。

服装はダボダボなポロシャツとカーゴパンツに野球の帽子。

食べることと遊ぶこと以外で期待されているのは、自分が興味を持っている課題のみの徹底追求。

評価基準は、どれほど自分の意見を口頭と文章で表現できるか。

ここまで読んでいただければお分かりのことかと思うが、これは日本の大学生生活の話ではない。

高校受験に受かるかさえ微妙な僕がそもそも大学入試を受けても合格するとは思えないが、いずれにせよ、性格的に日本の大学と肌が合うとは到底思えない。

日本の大学生活の話を聞くと、辛い高校生活の延長としか思えないのだ。

家族と住む家から通学し、毎日朝から夕方まで1日10個以上ある授業を受け、期末試験で試されるのは累積したはずの知識。

すべて僕が小学校入学から高校卒業までの12年間、苦手としていたことばかりだ。

米国での大学生活が僕に馴染んでいたのは、これらとすべて、おさらばできたからである。

米国大学生の毎日は寮生活なしには語れない。教師にも親にも監督されない、自由奔放な寮生活。

とにかく寮生活は楽しい。ルームメイトは一年生の時に親しくなった友達。時間つぶしには誰かが持ち込んだプレステ。食事は夜中まで空いている食堂で、娯楽は近所にある映画館で。

基本的に24時間キャンパスにいるので、毎日毎瞬ただ遊びほうけていても、さすがにいずれは学業に励みたくなる気持ちになるが、勉強さえも自由なのが米国の大学である。

もちろん必修科目という煩わしい概念も存在するが、一般教養、所謂リベラル・アーツの大学に通っていれば、そんな物は何とでもなる。

興味ある科目の、好きな教授が教えている、都合のいい時間に行われる授業を受ければいいのがリベラル・アーツ大学なので、嫌いな科目をしんどい朝から苦手な先生が長々と語る高校と比較すれば、学生としての義務とも言える学業も、(米国)大学生になれば天国である。

更に、米国大学での結果の出し方は僕のような人間に最も相性が合っている。発言力が重視される米国で大学生に期待されるのは、意見を主張し、表現することである。別に知識も思考も必要としない。正確な回答など導けなくとも、とにかく思いついたことを適当に表現していれば評価されるので、芸は口である僕にとって、これほど自分の特技に見合った環境もあるまい。

余談だが、さすがの米国のリベラル・アーツ大学でも、知識を累積することが求められる授業がある。科学や数学がその典型的な例だが、米国の大学の凄いのは、「科学が苦手な学生が必修科目を満たす為の科学授業」という学歴詐欺のような授業が存在することである。そんな授業を受けても当然科学に関する知識は一向に増えないため、小学時代からの僕の科学オンチは大学に通うことによって解消されることはなかった。

僕は社会人になってから大学・大学院時代を過ごしたボストンカレッジがあるボストン付近に戻っていない。それは、僕の、生涯を大学生のまま終わらすことが現社会ではダメ人間のレッテルを貼られることになるのを理解した上での、残りの人生に挑む覚悟の表れである。

ボストンを訪れてしまえば、即退職して学生に戻ってしまうのを分かっているから。

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To Entitled Eagles: You’re Not Special


This is a sixth in a series, titled “Letter to an Eagle,” in which I author a letter to past, current, and/or future students of Boston College, expressing my views on my beloved alma mater, advising on surviving and thriving at The Heights, and sharing personal stories from my collegiate (and law school) days.

This sixth letter is addressed to the current students at Boston College, many of whom have an unwarranted sense of entitlement.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Entitled Eagles,

Despite attending a prestigious university called Boston College, there are certain things that you are not entitled to.

Continue reading ‘To Entitled Eagles: You’re Not Special’

I Mock, Because I Don’t Understand


I am opinionated about a whole range of topics with little knowledge on a very small number of things.

The result of this less-than-ideal combination of personality and intellectual (in)capacity is that I have a tendency to mock, rather loudly and proudly, things I don’t understand.

Continue reading ‘I Mock, Because I Don’t Understand’

To Underclassmen Eagles: Make Not Just Friends, But Friends Who Are Different


This is a fifth in a series, titled “Letter to an Eagle,” in which I author a letter to past, current, and/or future students of Boston College, expressing my views on my beloved alma mater, advising on surviving and thriving at The Heights, and sharing personal stories from my collegiate (and law school) days.

This fifth letter is addressed to current underclassmen of Boston College who are in the position to form friendships that last a lifetime.

Continue reading ‘To Underclassmen Eagles: Make Not Just Friends, But Friends Who Are Different’

振り返って情けない、僕の教育


最近米国の実家に置いてあった私物を整理していたら、中学生時代以降のノートやプリント、試験の答案用紙などが出てきた。懐かしいと思い、目を通しながら過去の自分の教育を振り返ると、なんとも複雑な心境になった。

見つけたもので最も古かったのは、中学生の時、塾の数学の授業で取っていたノート。適当にめくったページには数字が縦と横に並んでいた。何らかの計算だろうとは思ったが、引き算なのか割り算なのかもよく分からなかった。大して難しくない筈の中学レベルの数学さえ理解できなくなってしまったことにショックは受けたが、最近職場で「8引く5は4だからね」と自信満々に小学一年生レベルの算数を間違えて唖然とした目で見られたばかりだったので、二次関数の因数分解(であることをいずれ思い出した)の計算が見分けられないのは、実は今更びっくりするほどの事でもない。

中学レベルの数学ならまだ数字しかノートに書かれていないので、がんばれば理解できる。次に出てきたノートには、数字ではなく、かと言って文字でもない、逆さまのAのような記号がxやらyやらに囲まれて書かれていた。この投稿を書くにあたり「逆さまのA」をインターネットで検索したら、∀が全称記号というものであることが判明した。昔はこの記号の意味を知っていたのだからと思い、ウィキペディアで「全称記号」を引き、(英文の)記事を頑張って読んだが、「そういえばなんかこれ重要な記号だったな〜」ということぐらいしか頭に思い浮かばなかった。仕方なく、あの頃学んだことを何一つ覚えていない恥を隠すため、高校生以前の勉強関連の物を全部処分した。

今の数学力では到底信じてもらえないが、米国で地元の私立高校に通っていた頃の得意な科目は数学だった。米国の数学レベルの低さと僕が日本人の塾へ通っていたことを考えると、これは大して自慢できることでもないが、中途半端なバイリンガルの僕が無事大学へ進学できたのは、数学の点数が高校時代の全般的な成績をつり上げていた他ない。

米国の凄いのは、あんなに高校までの数学教育がひどい環境で、数学の天才が誕生すること。僕は高校時代に通用した成功の秘訣を大学でも試そうと思い、数学専攻コースをたどった。当初は順調だったが、3年生の1学期あたりから雲行きが怪しくなった。なにせ、数学の授業を受けているのに数字が出てくる頻度が徐々に減って来るのだ。これはボストンカレッジリベラルアーツを強調する教育方針だった為、応用数学ではなく純粋数学を教えていたからなのだが、足し算さえ使えなくなった代数学あたりで周りの生徒についていけなくなった。その頃二進も三進もいかなくなった証拠が、中間試験で40点という情けない形で出てきた。

しかし、人生とは甘く出来ているもので、ちょうど僕が数学問題の解答と縁が無くなり始めた頃、解答をそもそも要求していない社会科学の分野で僕は軌道に乗り始めていた。特に政治学においては、ある課題に関する大して深くない考えを、授業中にはあたかも詳細に分析しているように大きな声で頻繁に熱弁し、試験日には答案用紙に長々と読めない筆跡で、思いついた事を何でもいいからとにかく書くコツがつかめてきていた。

このコツがつかめるまで結構かかった証拠も山ほど発見。2年生の時に受けた二学期にわたるローマ・ギリシャ古典のゼミ。二学期目の後半にさしかかった頃に提出したレポートには、下から数えた方が早いB−の評価と共に「一学期目の最初のレポートが一番よかった」と、1年間、僕は成長するどころか後退していることを示唆するコメントが付随していた。

これは訳の分からない古典についての授業だったから評価が悪かったと言うわけでもなく、得意の分野である筈の日本政治の授業の期末レポートには、「このレポートの脚注がとても興味深かった」旨のコメントが残されていた。5ページも割いた本文の内容より、たった3行の脚注の内容の方が価値があったようだ。

よくこんなで大学を卒業でき、大学院まで進み、司法試験も受かったと思うが、米国だから、そして知識を要求されない分野を選んだからこそ可能だったのだろう。

と言うのも、ニュージャージー州の司法試験は6科目について1問ずつの6問と決まっているが、僕は試験の当日、6問目が唯一残された課題である契約についての問題だと分かっていたのにもかかわらず、どう契約が問題に関連しているのかがさっぱり分からなかった。仕方なく答案用紙には適当なことを書いた僕は、今はニュージャージ州の法曹資格を持っている。

数年前、自分の学歴に関する似たような投稿を英語で書きました。英語版は小学校時代まで遡ります。比べてみて下さい

Living Life Without Regrets


I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life.  If forced to name them, I have a list of three to choose from, but people laughed at me the one time I talked about how I forever regret choosing to study for my constitutional law exam instead of attending my very first Brad Paisley concert, so I have become less open about sharing my life regrets, as shallow as they may be.

In having so little regrets, it helps that I’m generally content with where I am in my life.  But I also take to heart the saying that there’s very little point in dwelling on the past because what’s done is done and time and energy are far better spent thinking about what do in the present for the future.  If I were to add a corollary to this cliché, it would be that even if one can take back a moment from the past, the alternative path that would be chosen may very well lead to another regret.

Carpe diem, as the old Latin phrase goes, and I suppose there is some truth in the belief that in order to avoid having regrets in the future, I have to make the most out of the present.  Whatever may become my regrets as I continue to live my life, I’m fairly certain that the regret of having wasted time away would feel the most empty of all the regrets.

But carpe diem seems far too easy of an answer to the question, how should I live a life without regrets?  What I’ve learned over the short time I’ve been alive is that life is far too unpredictable to be able to know now what my regrets may become.

One of the regrets I have is that I stopped playing the piano, not because I think I would have been a good pianist, but because I think learning to appreciate the piano would have gone a long way towards making me less of a philistine.   In college, I had a brief drive to get back into playing it but I never followed through.  The truth is that never in my childhood or collegiate days did I think that I would wind up regretting my inability to play a musical instrument.  Back then–and now–if I were to seize the day, so to speak, I wouldn’t have seized it with the piano.  Yet here I am, having wished that piano was part of my life.

And then there are times that I expected would be a moment of regret as I lived through it, only to find out that life is often unexpectedly pleasant.  I didn’t have the most successful of college and law school application process, and back then, I thought that I would always wonder what more I could have done to end up on the road that I had either hoped (in case of college) or envisioned (in the case of law school).  Now that I look back on my years of higher education, though, the only regret I can think of is if I didn’t have those seven years at Boston College, Rutgers University School of Law – Newark and Boston College Law School.

If there are regrets that unexpectedly came to be and those that unexpectedly became not, then there are also moments that became regrets as expected.  The most painful one is from my senior year in high school, when I got an unexpected chance to play in the county tennis tournament.  I can still vividly recall how I imploded in that match and how the only thing I was hoping for during the entire time I was playing was for the experience to be over as soon as possible.

If there’s one moment that I could take back in my life, it’s that one hour.  I don’t know whether I could have won that match or whether I could have even made the match competitive, but that’s precisely the point.  I didn’t give it enough to find out.

That time I spent on the tennis court  was an insignificant event in my life that can be counted in minutes in a lifetime that spans years.  Regardless of how the match would have turned out, it would have had absolutely no bearing on how my life came to be.  Yet it remains the greatest regret of my life, not for what I chose to do or not do, but for not going all in once I chose to do it.  I can live with losing the piano because I chose to prioritize other matters.  And my pride with my academic career has much to do with the fact that I gave it the best I could not only to get there, but also after I got there.

Regret, I’ve learned, isn’t about what could have been.  It’s rather that perpetual, irrecoverable feeling that I could have done better.

I’m living my life hoping I never feel that way again.

To Eagles Preparing for Senior Year: Commit to Writing a Senior Thesis


This is a fourth in a series, titled “Letter to an Eagle,” in which I author a letter to past, current, and/or future students of Boston College, expressing my views on my beloved alma mater, advising on surviving and thriving at The Heights, and sharing personal stories from my collegiate (and law school) days.

This fourth letter is addressed to current juniors of Boston College who are making preparations for senior year.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Eagles Preparing for Senior Year,

After three years of hard work, I know it’s tempting to look at your final year in college as the last hurrah before you have to face the realities of the real world.  Workdays, bills and taxes await you after graduation, and I don’t blame you for wanting to make the most (or perhaps the least) out of your senior year.  Heck, with the college itself requiring one fewer course in each semester of your senior year, it’s almost as if the school itself is encouraging you to take it easy.  I certain took the hint and earned only nine credits my first semester of senior year.

It’s with that understanding that I urge you to commit now to writing a senior thesis.  It is one educational priority that Harvard, which requires each graduate to write a thesis, got right (although in typical Harvard fashion, it got wrong even something it got right by permitting people to double-major but requiring them to write two theses).

It is clichéd, but also true: the process of writing a thesis will provide you with a set of skills that will prove valuable in a way that knowing about Roman history never could.  For the most of you, a senior thesis will be the grandest project you will tackle in college.  There will be an advisor to guide you through the way, but the project will ultimately be yours to plan, execute and complete.  The process of taking a vague theme that you are interested in and turning it into a scholarly work in written form will be daunting in ways you can’t imagine.  A task as simple as selecting the subject matter and formulating your main argument, the “thesis,” will alone take weeks of individual research and discussions with your advisor.

If my experience is any indication, writing the thesis will test your discipline, endurance and perseverance in ways that will induce panic.  I spent my final semester at Boston College either playing hide-and-seek with my advisor or holed up in Maloney Hall, frantically typing away instead of sleeping, eating or drinking.  It was perhaps the most painfully sleep and food-deprived couple weeks of my life, and I’m glad there was a professor who strongly encouraged me to experience it.  What I learned in that short time isn’t something that I could have learned by taking two more courses instead.

It is often said that the reward is in the journey, but in the case of a senior thesis, I think you’ll find that the ultimate destination is quite rewarding as well.  Such reward can be as shallow and vain as knowing that your accomplishment will be perpetually recognized.  Since a couple years ago, Boston College has hosted a depositary where you can upload your thesis to join the ranks of other fine scholarly work produced by Boston College alumnus, including yours truly.  And because the depositary is available for public search, you may one day achieve the ultimate glory of having your work cited by someone else on the Internet.

A senior thesis, though, will become much more than a leading item to place in your resumé under your “Education,” which is to say that it will be more substantively meaningful than the double major that you chased against my advice.  It will be a rare opportunity for you to establish a specialty without going to grad school and despite attending a general studies liberal arts school.  It will become the simple answer to the question, “what did you accomplish in college?”

Of course, the finished product will ultimately be a work of an undergraduate that is unlikely to be of the caliber that is worthy of a presentation at an academic conference.  But it’s equally true that whatever topic you end up writing on, you will end up being in a very exclusive club by the end of the process, for you will be one of only a handful of people in the world who has the knowledge to provide meaningful insight on the subject.  It is a natural consequence of dedicating an entire year to researching, analyzing and writing on a very specific topic, even if it is as seemingly irrelevant as whether Jon Stewart is really a journalist (apparently he is not).

And if your experience of writing a thesis becomes as fulfilling as it has been for me, it will prove to be something that will affect you long after you graduate because it will form a part of an ongoing journey that you will build on for the rest of your life.  My career after Boston College has taken me far away from Japanese elections, but the topic remains my passion.  It is the one subject that I continue to study up on on a daily basis no matter how busy I get.  It has become a core part of who I am, because it is something that I spent an entire year breathing.

So make your senior year not only memorable but also impactful.

Write a thesis.


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