A Pandora’s box of time and youth

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A Pandora’s box of time and youth


One night when I was having a drink with co-workers, one of them asked the group, “Would you want to go back to your 20s?” Being 30 years younger sounds tempting, but surprisingly, people were not so eager. One even said, “That sounds terrible. I would never go back to my 20s.” I was more reluctant. I would love to relive my bright and sunny youth, but I don’t want to go back to those gloomy days, when I felt like I was walking in a dark tunnel.

Yesterday, I gave a lecture at a university in which I was asked to analyze media reports. I asked the students if the media should highlight students who drop out if they are not admitted to prestigious universities, such as Seoul National, Korea or Yonsei. The students responded sensitively. The school at which I was lecturing was a respectable university in the capital region with a relatively high post-graduation employment rate, but it was not one of the top three.

One student said that he would be concerned about the stigma associated with dropping out of Seoul National University. I trust his sincerity and feel that we should not make imprudent assumptions about a student’s future. At the same time, I could guess what was going on in the minds of the audience. They were thinking that there was a hierarchy even when it comes to dropping out. Society would pay attention to a message about discrimination if students from the top three universities were leaving school voluntarily. No one cares about students who drop out of regional or low-ranking schools, even if they are struggling to finance their education. The students who leave the top schools set themselves apart by leaving at a time when 80 percent of high school students go to college. In the 1980s, student activists left school and joined the labor movement, but that would difficult to do now because academic background is crucial, even in the progressive camp. The leader of the Democratic Labor Party, which is the most progressive party, is a graduate of the Seoul National University School of Law.

Nowadays, college students are stuck between the established generations of the left and the right. If people in their 50s are caught between the older and younger generation, those in their 20s are sandwiched between industrialization and democratization. Nevertheless, they have to draw the future for themselves. Fortunately, young Koreans have a Pandora’s box filled with great presents, namely time and youth. I expect them to do their best.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Noh Jae-hyun
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