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College students, find knowledge on top of the rock wall

It's time to stop trashing this nation's crop of college graduates for not knowing common facts -- the name of the U.S. Supreme Court's chief justice for example -- and start applauding them for what they did learn after four years of academia.

Specifically, how to master a rock climbing wall.

I say this after spending the early part of summer visiting colleges and universities vying for my daughter's attendance -- and her father's tuition checks -- come next year. We've toured campuses large and small, public and private, in urban settings and surrounded by bean fields, and have always come away with the same perception:

"Gee, wasn't that rock climbing wall awesome?"

College tours, after a few of them, take on a sameness that feels like the "Groundhog Day" plot. A fresh faced student greets a gathering of skeptical parents and their wide-eyed teens at the admissions office and proclaims, in precisely 30 PowerPoint-aided minutes, their undying infatuation with the school.

"There's no place like (INSERT NAME OF SCHOOL)" they'll say, so often that eventually I glance at their feet to see if they are clicking their heels together three times.

During this love fest, it's also imperative to recite the names of celebrities who attended, even those who flunked out, dropped out or were expelled for launching paint filled balloons onto the school president's front porch. During the University of Missouri tour, Brad Pitt's name was invoked so often, I assumed he was the school's mascot. It's actually the tiger, which sounds far better than "The Fighting Pitts."

Then the real tour begins. Several equally well scrubbed students appear, split the audience into small groups, and head out. There are promises to visit lecture halls, buildings where famous research was conducted ("Here at Indiana University, we'll see where Alfred Kinsey asked frumpy housewives personal questions about sex!") and the library.

But first, the guides happily exclaim, we'll tour our brand new, state-of-the-art student athletic center!

It's a little known fact, but all U.S. institutions of higher learning were recently mandated, under federal law, to construct massive recreational centers. This was necessary after studies concluded students might know that John Roberts, not Jon Hamm, is chief justice if they had access to 50-meter lap pools, Stairmasters, smoothie bars and the obligatory rock climbing wall. Until I began touring colleges, I'd only seen rock walls at health clubs and retail sporting good outlets. All feature a "climber" who has scaled about three-quarters of the structure and now, dangling 100 feet in the air, looks hopelessly confused, as if his next move will be his last. I never understood how climbing a wall in the middle of The Sports Authority prepares one for climbing an actual mountain; most natural rock formations don't include brightly-colored plastic footholds and a spotter below constantly yelling encouragement.

But, judging by their mandatory presence at the University of Wherever, conquering one must be a job prerequisite. I've already instructed my daughter to surmount the wall as soon as possible, for it should help her obtain employment, or at least an internship.

"Miss Schwem, I see you made the Dean's Lists, served as sorority president and taught English to underprivileged kids in Guatemala. But how are your rock climbing skills?"

"Excellent. Check out this selfie of me at the top of Mt. Pitt!"

"Welcome aboard!"

Parents usually stare at the rock wall as if it were the world's hardest Sudoku puzzle, so confused are they by its presence and the realization that their tuition checks will help maintain it. Also, rugged fitness was most likely not a part of their college experience. Indeed, I remember being short of breath just running down my dorm steps to greet the mobile pizza truck.

Ironically, the campus tour usually concludes at a dorm cafeteria, where attendees are invited to eat whatever they can consume in 45 minutes. The guides hover nearby, picking at salads or other light fare since all will probably be climbing the rock wall later that day and don't want to feel bloated.

My daughter has yet to make her college decision but has narrowed her choices. I won't reveal her top pick for I do not wish to be flooded with calls and emails from the runners up, begging for a second chance.

But here's a hint: She looks awfully good in a black and gold climbing helmet.

(Greg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author of "Text Me If You're Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad," available at http://bit.ly/gregschwem. Visit Greg on the web at http://www.gregschwem.com.)

(c) 2014 GREG SCHWEM. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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