Columns

Ben Bernstein ’09: Always believe in the power of your dreams!

By
Opinions Columnist
Thursday, April 23, 2009

I’ve always been a dreamer. When I was in pre-school, my recurring dreams centered on being kidnapped. I would often be at a restaurant with my parents, sitting in a wrap-around booth, one of those leather-bound semi-circles, and some faceless men would come and try to pull me away by the arm while my parents pulled me by the other.

I would wake up and immediately look around frantically for my parents who would, of course, be fast asleep in their bed, hardly an obstacle to me as I burst violently into their room just to make sure they were still there.

Now my dreams are all about graduation. Or more specifically, they are allegorical, psychedelic references to what came before graduation — my time at Brown.

In one, I take a breathless trip to the top of an immensely tall building, a real skyscraper, and ask one of my fellow travelers, a math major (so you know he’s smart) if I am ready for the next step. He assures me, despite my doubts, that I am. When I open a door to head back down to earth, I am met by nothingness.

I’m sure I’ve lost some of you, but if you stay with me, there’ll be a payoff.

In another dream, I am hanging out at the OMAC when a voice in my head tells me to come down to the basketball courts. There, I meet a woman, dressed in business attire, who identifies herself as the leader of a special organization and tells me she has tapped my phone, but has done so for my own benefit. Behind her is the rest of her organization — superheroes and geniuses in wheelchairs. I try to speak but only nonsense comes out, to which the group of people laughs understandingly.

The woman tells me that I’ve been accepted into the group and I’m shocked. “Why me,” I ask, “How am I possibly qualified?”

“You just are,” she answers. And I understand.

Then I wake up, only this time, instead of making sure my parents are still there, I want to make sure that my university is still around.

I know this feels like a non-sensical Indy article right now, so I’ll try to bring it back to the real world:

How does Brown, or rather, the experience of going to school at Brown prepare or change 20-year-old kids in a meaningful way?

To paraphrase from my dream — it just does. That is to say, Brown’s education gives students the ability to reassure themselves, to have a little faith.

At Brown, where the advising generally stinks and there are no curriculum requirements to make academic choices any easier, students are simply forced to develop some self-confidence.

I majored in history and in some respects, it was disappointing. I can name some dates, battles and kings, but I’ll forget them within a few years. I know what different scholars say about the rise of the American working class, but I’ll forget them soon too.

What I will retain, what I feel confident I will take with me after spending four years here, is my confidence. Recently, a professor told me that college is auto-didactic, which means that you have to teach yourself.

I was lucky to work for The Herald where I could teach myself on a regular basis. As a columnist who wrote primarily about Brown-related issues, I talked with Ratty workers, library staffers, Chancellor Thomas Tisch ’76, all sorts of deans and provosts and a wider range of students than I knew existed. I learned how to talk to people, how organizations work, how change happens and how it doesn’t.

What these students specifically had, besides a melting pot’s worth of brilliant ideas, clever schemes and nervous tics, was self-reliance — and a willingness to teach themselves — that would make Ralph Waldo proud.

Although frankly I’m hardly qualified to advise even myself, if I could give one piece of advice to students still at Brown, and feel free to cringe here, it would be to try to teach yourself at every opportunity.

The best gift Brown ever gave you was to throw you like a naked babe into the cold world of college with no more than your own wits as a life preserver.

The most important thing about the dreams I brought up earlier was that I was the person dreaming them. Learn to believe in your abilities and you’ve gotten all that you ever could from Brown.

Ben Bernstein ’09, a former Herald opinions editor, is from St. Louis, Missouri.