Originally written December 4, 2016 at Dog Street Pub
I worked very hard to earn the only participation trophy I ever received. They also gave one to the kid who sat in the grass picking at his own jock strap, but I earned my trophy, damn it!
Cries ring out from the country clubs and nursing homes about how the millennials were ruined by the participation trophy. “Something for nothing,” they say between phlegmy harrumphs. “You’re fragile and entitled, all of youse!”
I showed up to every practice and played my guts out. I put up with the coach’s shithead kid. I was hit in the face by errant soccer balls, I fell and got scraped, bruised, and bloodied. For what? Fun? The love of the game? I only played because at that age you simply participated in seasonal sports without question. It’s the type of social buy-in you continue to experience in adulthood, like playing Secret Santa at the office Christmas party or secretly fat shaming Sheryl at the office Christmas party. She offered to bring cannolis and then proceeded to only eat the cannolis. At least back in my soccer days, people like Cheryl made good goalies. Now look at her.
I fear that this same attitude is the reason I ever attempted to go to college. High school Ethan was a terrible student. Still, my teachers and guidance counselors insisted that I would never get a job without a degree. I would never be taken seriously. All my peers were doing it. So I went to college. I showed up to every class. I studied. I put up with the weirdo professors. (Side note: Those who can’t do, teach. But if you can’t do, then what freaking business do you have teaching?)
Quitting school was the most fun I had in college. I realized that the degree I aspired to was just another social buy-in. I very well cannot tell you that every degree is otherwise worthless, but I can tell you that you don’t have to be a top student in your class to get one. “D’s” may not actually get degrees, but if you show up, participate, and try your hardest, you are practically guaranteed a “B,” and “B’s” get degrees.
Every class has its valedictorian, has its jockstrap kid. Every average student in between –likely the ones who tucked away their participation trophies without a second thought- will still earn his or her respective degree.
As for me, I learned my lesson. I’m going to sit out here in the grass watching the other kids play, scratching at the itch of my own jockstrap.