I’m torn. As much as my juvenile self longs for the aimlessness of vacation, on some level, it feels good to be back. Really good.

As much as you may deny it, I know you missed being here too. Sure, it was nice to experience a temperature that would constitute a passing grade on an exam. And you’re right, food from the campus cafeterias might not be as tasty, convenient or free as food from home. Needless to say, in our lives away from college, we don’t have to worry about finals or papers.

Fair enough.

I, for one, am anxious about regaining the discipline and work ethic I worked so hard to harness last semester, which has now melted like the Wicked Witch of the West during my six weeks off.

Everyone is going through some process of facing the music and getting back to the “real life” of tests, grades and papers. It’s not fun, but it needs to be done. As Mulan, possibly the greatest hero to come out of China since Bruce Lee, once said, “Let’s get down to business (to defeat the Huns).”

But what exactly is the business we must be getting down to? Academic work seems to be the first inclination. Now that vacation has ended, it is time to settle back in to the mundane grind of college life. Class, work, eat, study, sleep, weekend and repeat.

Every student and professor across campus, and perhaps across the nation, is readjusting to this unexciting routine. But why does it need to be this way? Who decided that college must be an institution built on grades and fulfilling requirements? For the intellectually honest student, this quantitative regularity should be highly disconcerting.

What ever happened to inspiration? What about our innate insatiable thirst for knowledge, truth and meaning? Are we supposed to grow out of intellectual curiosity like it’s a children’s toy?

Where did that feeling of falling in love with a piece of literature go? When I leave a classroom, I want to feel exhilarated like an astronaut exploring the unknown, not burdened like a peasant.

Sadly, the fact that college is hardly about learning or getting an education is old news. Rather, it is widely accepted that college serves the primary purpose of qualifying students for professional positions.

One of the people who most effectively articulates this idea is Sir Ken Robinson, a British author. In a talk aptly named “Ken Robinson Says Schools Kill Creativity,” Robinson asserts that the Industrial Revolution provided the model of production factory output that educational institutions most commonly imitate today. Rather than manufacturing products, colleges manufacture prospective employees, leaving very little space for creativity let alone ideals such as intellectual curiosity, a passion for learning and a love of truth.

Amidst the stresses of requirements, degrees and GPAs, where does real learning come in?

I refuse to accept the notion that a grade translates into knowledge. I’d like to believe it’s possible to reconcile the system of grades and evaluations with a true love of learning and the pursuit of excellence — a joint effort advancing both heart and mind.

We can do this by creating and pursuing our own ideals, ones that represent our own personal goals and aspirations.

No one will ever give you a grade for how well you interact with your friends and family during the semester. There are no “general education requirements” when it comes to being a good person.

College is, or at least should be, about personal development. As cliché as it sounds, it is important to remember that, more often than not, real growth takes place outside of the classroom.

We must be our own graders when it comes to the tough questions.

Are you living consistently with your principles? Do you approach life with a positive attitude? These are questions that might not improve your application for a job, but they will certainly improve your life. True excellence is incomputable and won’t be averaged out into one number representing you as a person for four years.

Like Mulan, we too must get down to business, not to defeat a ruthless army of Huns invading Imperial China, but rather to commit to excellence. Excellence in not only our studies, but also in our relationships with others and our pursuit of truth and meaning.