As a fully realized and self-aware geek, I sometimes find myself judging other people on the extent of their crippling social awkwardness. Yes, I am obsessed with the four elements and briefly considered a related tattoo. Yes, I participated in Academic Challenge (some of you may know it as Quiz Bowl) for seven years, four of which found me as the captain of two separate teams. Yes, I watch the History Channel for fun on a regular basis. Yes, I read textbooks in my leisure time for no reason other than the fact that I enjoy learning. However, I still find myself blown away by just how nerdy some people are in this day and age and how desperate they are to shield their dorkier tendencies.
I’ve noticed that the school at which I attend graduate school has a real problem with the social awkwardness of its undergraduate population. Some students vehemently deny their inherent nerdiness and are surprised when it works itself out in surprising ways. Many may try too hard to prove themselves and end up belligerently drunk at a fraternity party and vomit in front of the brothers. Others may end up living a double life in a desperate attempt to hide their World of Warcraft leagues. Really, it’s quite sad, since the simple fact of attending a top tier school betrays your level of intelligence.
My undergrad was literally full of nerds. I shit you not, a classmate was so successful as a freshman that he was ranked at the top of the sophomore class. This same student would drink himself to black out at his fraternity on the weekend and curl up on the couch, spewing forth physics formulae in the fetal position. Our school was notorious for social retardation, aggressive geeks, and an uncanny embracing of jorts. I, for one, was attacked by a handful of pugnacious D&D freaks as a sophomore. When I asked them to return the furniture they had taken from the study lounge (in and of itself an overly bookish concept), the Dungeon Master literally threw the chair at me. Needless to say, I was taken aback by just how furious the ginger sci fi psycho was in response to me.
So I really started to pay attention on campus, and while there were isolated pockets of frustration like the “Chair Incident,” the overall feeling was one of acceptance and understanding. We would call each other out on awkward moments, usually by utilizing the “awkward turtle” or “TMI turkey,” but there was barely ever sincere malice behind the gestures. We even created a specific term for a student from our school that represented the stereotype of egregious social ineptitude, whether they wore a bathrobe to the dining hall or snorted while laughing. By graduation, we had come to terms with the fact that simply attending our institution was an announcement of one’s own inherent nerdiness. All of us were nerds, it just came to a matter of degrees – no pun intended. We didn’t necessarily hide our love of Jeopardy! or knowledge of Harry Potter; some of us were just naturally more adept at employing other conversation topics.
So as I live with new first year students and work with a range extending to people in their mid-fifties, I’ve noticed the culture of the geek on this college campus. If the school itself just came to support the latent awkwardness of students it attracts, it’d be a much happier place. The judgment, ostracizing, and belittlement would practically die out. Ironically, I judge the nerds here for how desperately they try to hide how they are from each other. It doesn’t matter if your obsession is Lord of the Rings, X-Men comics, Jane Austen novels, or Halo video games, everyone that goes here is a total and utter geek. When it comes down to it, at the end, nerdar will always win out; we can’t help but find each other.