Focal Point: An editor's take on the '10 Happiest Colleges of 2013'

Published on Saturday, 8 March 2014 22:50 - Written by Dave Berry

“I just want to go to university and have fun – I want to be an ordinary student. I’m only going to university. It’s not like I’m getting married – though that’s what it feels like sometimes.”

— Prince William


Maybe you missed it, what with all the buildup to the Grammys, Golden Globes and Oscars, but the “Ten Happiest Colleges of 2013” were announced.

The rating of universities with the happiest student bodies was compiled by The Daily Beast, the online version of Newsweek. Their rankings were based on four factors: freshman retention rates, quality of the student health center, overall student experience and whether students “would do it all over again.”

I guess I’m skeptical that those four sets of data really equate to happiness, but I had to agree with quite a bit of their list.

I’ve set foot on only half of the 10 campuses, and while I’m sure the kids on those other campuses are just as giddy, I’ll have to take their word for it. Here’s the Daily Beast’s list of “Ten Happiest Colleges:”

1. Texas A&M

2. Stanford University

3. University of Wisconsin

4. Florida State University

5. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

6. University of Florida

7. Brigham Young University

8. University of Georgia

9. The University of Texas at Austin

10. Kansas State

In full disclosure, Kansas State, which came in at No. 10, is my alma mater. And using those four categories, my score would be pretty low: I transferred in and was never a freshman. I don’t think I ever visited the student health center. And many college students of the late ’60s and early ’70s might say theirs was a mix of good (and not so good) experiences.

As a student journalist, I helped cover protests against the war in Vietnam, the march to burn the ROTC building after the invasion of Cambodia, the arson fire that gutted Nichols Gym, the failed attempt to firebomb the president’s office and the student strike after Kent State. It was a heady, exciting time to be a reporter. I grew as a journalist, but it wasn’t the best atmosphere for learning. Would I do it all over again? Sure, but I’m not sure why I would want to.

I look back with fondness on the gritty, ink-stained interior of Kedzie Hall, where a dedicated team of rookie writers and editors put out the student daily. K-State gave me a proper start in life, a dog that followed me faithfully for 10 years and a tendency to equate Wildcat football games with the smell of bourbon.

I have very little experience on other campuses… so any rankings I might make would be less than scientific. We’ll leave the data crunching to the experts and rely instead on anecdotal evidence.

I won’t dwell on the two Texas schools on the list. Texas A&M and UT-Austin ranked first and ninth respectively. The debate over that placement is probably best left to their alumni. I can truthfully say I can’t knock either school.

I have relatives and friends who believe the sun rises and sets on Bryan-College Station. I can’t dispute their loyalty. Some of the best, most dedicated journalists I ever hired came from A&M. And, I would add, A&M has to be a much happier place since women crashed the male-only party and joined the Corps of Cadets.

My daughter graduated from Austin and still gets giddy when they light up the Tower after football victories. One of my most satisfying memories involves her graduation, a beautiful evening on the grass under the orange glow of the Texas Tower.

I have to disagree with the University of Wisconsin’s ranking… too cold for happiness would be my thought. My little brother taught for a time there, and thought it was a great place… until a tenure squabble left him bitter. So my opinion is a bit jaded.

I don’t know anything about campus life at Georgia, Florida, Florida State or Brigham Young. So, I will spare you my opinion.

I enjoyed a visit to Stanford last fall… and fell in love with it. While my wife lectured for two days in one of the halls, I was free to roam the Main Quad, shoot photos from the Hoover Tower, walk the Loop to the big dish antennas in the hills and enjoy the amazing Rodin sculptures at the Cantor Arts Center. But what convinced me Stanford was something special was my lunch in the sun outside Tresidder Union, where I listened in on student conversations about friendships, campus life and tough teachers. I have seldom felt so relaxed, even in the presence of so many future Nobel Prize winners.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill stirs other memories, not necessarily warm and fuzzy, but less than hostile. I was a soldier, stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., when a batch of us loaded into my new Torino for a short drive to Duke and the Africa-America Track Meet. There I would watch 19-year-old Francie Larrieu Smith run the mile, her long braided pigtails bouncing with every stride. The following year, she would run in the 1972 Olympics and go on to become a five-time Olympian. But that summer she was just starting her amazing run.

On our way, we all wanted to make one special stop... to visit the hometown and the college campus made famous by singer James Taylor. We even popped in a “Sweet Baby James” eight-track to prepare for our immersion into his beautiful world.

Relaxing in a cluster at the center of an open space in mid-campus where all the sidewalks come together, we listened to the chimes from the bell tower. We watched students coming and going from Wilson Library on the far end of the square and enjoyed being part of the Chapel Hill scene… until we realized how out of place we were.

Our civilian clothes and best college poses did not offset our short haircuts, and the students were making wide circles around us.

We weren’t that tough. We had a lot more in common with the students than they would ever know.

Sadly, we loaded back into my Torino and – giving up our notions of campus peace, brotherhood and happiness – we headed for the track meet.

It was 1971, and the lines had been drawn.


Dave Berry is editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph. Next week, we’ll talk about Michael Davis O’Donnell, a warrior-poet whose “Letters from Pleiku” continue to live on, long after his passing. Thanks for reading.