Why not an astronaut?

I asked students to go up to the board and write what they want to be when they grow up (yes, they are college students).  Lots of ideas went on the board: archives librarian, nurse, fashion designer, musician, bar owner… then there was “astronaut.”  When I asked them which ones they wanted to hear about, many said “Astronaut!” 

astronaut (image from clipartof.com)

So the “astronaut” says… “Well, I think it’d be cool to be an astronaut, but I guess I want to be a web designer.”  He says he doesn’t want to be in school for the rest of his life to become an astronaut and, although it’d be cool, he doesn’t see it as a realistic goal. 

This struck me as… sad.  But then I thought, should I be applauding this student for setting realistic goals and working towards that?  I don’t know.  I feel a little torn over this.  I guess we want our young people to reach for the stars and really dedicate their lives to do something that they really, really want to do.  On the other hand, maybe it’s wrong to encourage goals that are… as the student said… “unrealistic.” 

I think college is no longer an exploratory experience.  Usually, they have a sense of a “job” or “career” they want to pursue and they come to college to get the diploma that will qualify them and prepare them for it.  As sociologist say these days, the students of the millennial generation seem very goal-oriented, very focused on career goals.

So… is my being sad for this student who wants to be an astronaut but doesn’t want to be an astronaut really… is it just my own reminiscence for “the good old days” or have we really lost something?

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