Tufts’ YOLO question is a great idea

If Salon.com is to be believed, I’m about to go on record as an “out of touch dad.” But having just gotten a degree from Tufts University, I feel compelled to have an opinion on this YOLO (You Only Live Once) question.*

Fortunately for me, Salon.com is wrong. Easy as it is to mock, the question on Tufts’ application that asks “What does #YOLO mean to you?” is a great question. The reason why is simple: It challenges teens to reflect critically on popular culture, and on its effects on their own lives. Heaven forbid, a university encourage its students to do that.

In fact, isn’t that exactly what Salon does? That is, when they’re not fawning or feigning disinterest.

Sharper – or at least, harsher – criticism came from the Atlantic Wire, which wrote that “the question is an obvious instance of pandering, of Tufts announcing that it is cool, that its admission officers get it.” So, anything in the admissions process that allows teens to express themselves on their own terms, or think critically about the world they live in, is just a lame attempt at pandering? Or did they think that Tufts only wants 140 characters?

Well, never mind their lame attempts at burns, it’s pretty clear what’s really earned the Atlantic’s ire. Vitriol like this reflects the “visceral” disgust provoked by all teenage culture (see #21), which the contemptuous Bieber reference reveals as the author’s true motive. Sorry YOLO detractors, but you are being the out of touch dads.

I don’t exactly know what Tufts admissions officers are looking for in the answers. But my guess is they’re not looking for, as the Atlantic warns about, students in college just for the luxury housing. In fact, the safer money is on the opposite – YOLO can mean travel, explore, question, learn, reach my true potential. Any number of things, positive or negative.  The question doesn’t drag Tufts into the mud of popular culture; it gets students to start bringing that culture out of the mud. I’d like to see our universities (and online magazines) do more of this.

Finally, in the spirit of transparency, I confess I have another reason for writing, which is that I can’t help but feel that Tufts is trying to steal the image of “most quirky college.” Try all you want, Jumbos, but you’ll never beat the masters. Hail the Maize and Blue!

*If you missed it, applicants to Tufts this year must answer one of six essay questions, one of which reads:

E) The ancient Romans started it when they coined the phrase “Carpe diem.” Jonathan Larson proclaimed “No day but today!” and most recently, Drake explained You Only Live Once (YOLO). Have you ever seized the day? Lived like there was no tomorrow? Or perhaps you plan to shout YOLO while jumping into something in the future. What does #YOLO mean to you?


About developingnathan
I am a reflective person. I am an introvert, a friend, a brother and a son. I appreciate a well-crafted glass of beer, piece of music and turn of phrase. I am a professional of international development, a good pianist and a Green Bay Packers fan.

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