/This is not a manifesto for when I’m forty-five: Why what you write in college has weight

This is not a manifesto for when I’m forty-five: Why what you write in college has weight

It’s a strange, yet arguably shared experience, to look at a picture of a dog you retweeted and wonder if a potential employer will view it in a poor light. This concept has recently invaded my thinking and reinforced my awareness of the lack of reality on social media platforms. These spaces are less a reflection of my everyday life and more a curation of the image I want to present the world. 

The harsh truth is that what you make public will affect your future. James Gunn, director of both Guardians of the Galaxy films, has recently learned that what he posts on social media has consequences. Gunn was fired after tweets he made nearly a decade ago regarding topics such as pedophilia and rape surfaced. The award-winning director defended his tweets saying, “they don’t reflect the person I am today.” 

It’s important to look at the fact that his tweets are damaging to his career today, but were published nearly a decade ago. So, 140 misguided, inappropriate and unfortunate characters intended as a less-than-okay “joke” have ruined Gunn’s career. Yet, the intervening time is expected to make no difference on who Gunn is. 

 I know I wouldn’t want to be held accountable for many of the things I said 10 years ago. I was 13, and since then I’ve grown up and learned a lot; but, because of social media those poorly thought out posts are immortalized on social media. I’ve changed a lot in 10 years, just as Gunn states that he has, and the views of my 13-year-old self were much more controversial than the statements I choose to make public now as an adult. 

There will come a time in 10 years where I may even look back at this article and regret it. Prominent political figures are coming to this same realization about their college writings, as a recent judicial nominee, Ryan W. Bounds, was withdrawn by President Trump over controversial writings from college. The articles in question Bounds wrote 20 years ago, expressing troubling thoughts about multiculturalism on college campuses. 

Bounds is expected to be the same person at 45 that he was at 22, and not to have changed over the intervening 23 years, my entire lifespan. The prominent prosecutor, and graduate of both Stanford and Yale, noted that his statements in the article were, “often overheated, overbroad,” and “not as respectful,” as would have been necessary of the debate he wished to have. All too often we look at the writings of college students as some manifesto that will follow them for the rest of their lives. We argue that they will never change, even though “twenty-somethings” are in one of the most chaotic and flexible periods of their lives. 

I personally don’t even feel like the same person I was five years ago as my priorities have shifted. Even over the last year I’ve become a more understanding and open person with a much better ability to empathize with people from different backgrounds than my own, because I’ve been exposed to a more diverse group of people than before. 

 It’s hard to comprehend the idea that we are expected to be fully developed at each of these life stages, with the idea that we are legally considered full adults at 18, but still can’t consume alcohol for another three years. Are we to believe that both no changes are supposed to occur and also that there’s a drastic difference between 18 and 21-year-olds? That 45-year-old me will be the same as 21-year-old me, when, in the eyes of the law, 21-year-old me isn’t even the same as 18-year-old me? 

 Yes, I might regret writing this when I’m in line for some large position, and it’s stated prominently in the New York Times, “Judicial nominee wrote in college that he would not condemn men who made comments in poor taste about race in America, pedophilia and rape,” even though I will say right now that I condemn the comments themselves, but these men’s history need to examined under a magnifying glass instead of being outright dismissed, as assuming they haven’t changed over the span of ten to twenty years is just ridiculous to me. 

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Waid Jones was the editor-in-chief of The Alabamian during the 2019–2020 academic year. In 2018, while managing editor of The Alabamian, he received the Veterans of Influence Rising Star Award from the Birmingham Business Journal. Prior to coming to UM he was in the U.S. Marine Corps for two and a half years. Jones graduated with a degree in political science from UM in 2020. He is currently the news editor for the Jackson County Sentinel in Scottsboro, Alabama.