When I look back over more than four decades at my college years, I see lots of things.

I see all-nighters spent feverishly cramming for a big exam or desperately banging away on my portable typewriter to finish a term paper I should have started weeks before.

I see handwritten notes from a lecture that, alas, I couldn’t decipher because the professor was talking so fast I couldn’t keep up.

I see graduation looming on the horizon beneath a simple but alarming question: Now what?

What I don’t see are puppies.

“Campus puppy party helps UMF (University of Maine at Farmington) students, staff relieve stress,” pronounced a headline on pressherald.com last week. It continued, “Nearly 500 people took part in an event that included 7 golden retriever puppies in the Farmington Campus Center.”

Allow me to venture out onto perilously thin ice here: At what point did higher education become so stressful that colleges and universities saw fit to soothe students’ end-of-semester distress with – and I still can’t believe I’m saying this – a puppy party?

Welcome to the new realities of campus life, where the puppies get cuddled while Generation Z gets coddled.

Don’t get me wrong. I love puppies. Had a few myself over the years.

I also fully appreciate the role pets can play in helping people cope with trying situations.

In my past travels to Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, I saw many a young soldier latch onto a stray pup as a much-needed antidote to the incoming mortars, roadside bombs and other mortal threats that come with spending a year or more surviving a war zone.

That, my friends, is stress.

But finals exams? Essays? As the Chinese proverb goes, “That the birds of worry and care fly over your head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.”

Yet, there students and staffers alike stood Wednesday at the University of Maine at Farmington, anxiously awaiting their admission to the puppy party organized by the owner of the seven golden retriever pups and the university’s health center.

“The two-hour party began at 11 a.m.,” reported the weekly Franklin Journal. “Within the first half hour, 150 students had signed in with a waiting list going out the door. By noon, the number had doubled to 300.”

According to the newspaper, “Students were able to forget the essays due and finals planned for next week as they held, played with or simply watched the puppies. Students took turns sitting in one of seven circles on the floor of  The Landing in the Student Center. One puppy per circle calmly made his or her way from student to student.”

To be fair, this phenomenon is not limited to the University of Maine at Farmington.

At prestigious (and anxiety-ridden) Yale University, students can actually check out dogs from both the medical and law libraries because, as one librarian explained to the student newspaper, “For a lot of students, it’s their first time away from home and they do miss their home comfort – families, pets.”

And, according to dogtime.com (who else?), puppy sessions are part of the curriculum from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania to Kent State University in Ohio to the University of Toronto Law School, where, according to an assistant dean, many of the students show up “pet-starved.”

Here’s my problem with all of this: At the very time in their lives when these young (or soon-to-be) adults should be taking a deep breath and making their entry into a complex, confusing and increasingly dangerous world, there are all kinds of things these institutions of higher learning might do to prepare them for what lies ahead.

Things like time management, or how to get the most out of a meeting, or how to write an email that actually adheres to the rules of the English language.

Maybe even a seminar on how to accept a client’s or customer’s gratitude with something slightly less self-centered than, “Not a problem!”

Instead, we have puppy parties. Rather than agreeing with hand-wringing undergrads that grown-up life is indeed a tough journey and they’d best get about navigating it, we’re validating their “suffering” with adorable little bundles of bliss.

Now, by no means am I advocating the keggers, clouds of pot smoke or indiscriminate sexual hook-ups that undermined many a college transcript back in my day. Escapism, be it through a pot pipe or a puppy collar, is still escapism.

But as a society these days, we often seem all too ready to enable the next generation’s jitters rather than push back against them, to shower them in empathy when what they really need are marching orders.

I remember one night when I was only 13, just hours away from taking the entrance exam for an all-boys, Catholic high school.

For weeks, the nuns at my grammar school had relentlessly pounded into me and my fellow applicants that this was a do-or-die moment, that if we messed up this test, we were messing up God’s plan for our entire lives.

So, lying bug-eyed in my bed that night as the hours ticked away, I did what any other Catholic kid would have done in my position. I had an anxiety attack.

Eventually, tears running down my cheeks, I woke up my mother. I told her what the nuns had said, how I couldn’t sleep because I felt like I was on the cusp of total and eternal failure.

I remember the closest thing I got to validation was when Mom, God rest her soul, looked heavenward and muttered under her breath, “Those damn nuns.”

What I don’t remember is getting a whole lot of sympathy.

“It’s 2 o’clock in the morning!” she said. “You will flunk the test if you don’t stop your crying and go to sleep!”

I aced the test. And I learned a lesson.

Fear and worry, those nests in our hair, are our own creations. We can succumb to them or we can see the next hill for what it is and, reluctant as our feet may be, climb it and move on to the next one.

All it takes is persistence, perseverance and perhaps the occasional prayer.

Not puppies.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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