The Hero Goes to College | Heroic Thoughts


As if college wasn’t tough enough. You’re living on your own for the first time: doing your own laundry, preparing your own meals (or running up the tab at your local pizza place), and trying to balance classes, labs, work, and commitments to family and friends. Oh, and a social life. That’s important, too.

On top of all of that, you’re trying to figure out who you are. Your identity.

Although this may sound a little bit like Peter Parker in the movie Spider-Man 2 (2004), the fact is that this is the reality of most, if not all, college students.

As a student development professional, I know that there are critical developmental stages that coincide with the college experience. The first is psychosocial development, or the development of one’s identity in relation to others. In the first two years of college, students develop intellectual, physical, and interpersonal confidence; learn to manage their emotions; and develop autonomy.

At the same time, students are discovering increasingly complex ideas of right and wrong. As adolescents, right and wrong are defined by authority figures, whether family, coaches, religious leaders, etc. The idea is that right and wrong are externally driven. As cognitive structural development takes place, those ideas of right and wrong move from relativism (right and wrong are contextual) to commitment (to affirm and stand for one’s own values).

College is a powerful, if not critical time, to introduce the hero’s journey, and one of the things Hollywood absolutely got right in the script for Spider-Man 2. It also explains why colleges and universities experience the same behavioral challenges from their students, year after year after year.

Dr. Philip Zimbardo and Zeno Franco discovered the power of situational and social forces, which are discussed in the Lucifer effect: Understanding how good people turn evil . At the end of the book, they pose a fascinating idea: If it is possible to create a situation that compels average people to do evil things, is it also possible to create a situation that drives average people to do extraordinary, heroic things?

I believe the answer is an unequivocal “yes”.

Each and every one of us is called to be the very best versions of our selves.

In Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, the protagonist begins in the ordinary world, the “normal life” that comes to us when accept the expectations of family, friends, and society. From the ordinary world, the protagonist receives a call to adventure, where she or he yearns for a more purposeful life, a life that will positively impact the protagonist’s world.

That is the call that awaits all of us, if we are prepared to hear it. For those of us that are fed up, frustrated, or otherwise discouraged by the issues and problems in our communities and the world around us, this is the call to be more, and to do more.

This is the call to be heroes.