Many Rutgers University students were horrified this week to learn that $32,000 of their mandatory student fees went to Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi for her appearance on campus Thursday night. The Jersey Shore reality star addressed a crowd of more than 1,000 students as part of a live Q&A held at the university’s Livingston Student Center. Fueling the fire is the news that Rutgers’ upcoming commencement speaker, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, will be paid $2,000 less to address the graduating class next month.
To try to make the case that the money was spent wisely would be akin to attempting to run a fine-toothed comb through Pauly D’s hair—it just won’t happen. After all, it only makes sense that a university should be committed to backing speakers who appreciate the fundamental values of the institution. And as far as I know, Rutgers’ official motto doesn’t translate to, “Hooray for guidos and juiceheads!”
But there are things that students can take away from Snooki’s address, besides how to achieve that pumpkin-orange glow. The first lesson is a simple one: these people exist. While students spend years collecting facts in university, the campus can still serve as a microcosm of misinformation about the real word. “My degree makes me employable,” we think. “Only the smart succeed.” “Everyone talks about Kant’s philosophy over cocktails.” Of course, this is not always true. But immersed in a world of categorical imperatives and social justice rallies, we forget that society is a little different beyond the university gates. That might explain why students are often so surprised to see such low youth voter turnout rates during election time. We forget that some young adults would rather fist pump to house music than scroll through the incumbent platform. Not that political apathy or a Snooki-type lifestyle is something to be lauded. But it is something to recognize as present.
The other value to be had from a Snooki address is the fact that she exemplifies all it means to say, “Stupid Sells.” Case in point: When asked by a Rutgers student about her biggest inspiration, Snooki reportedly replied, “I’d honestly say being tan. When you’re tan, you feel better about yourself.” Either Snooki is taking us all for a ride, or those UV rays are doing something fierce on the inside. In any case, Snooki is a reminder to the academic population that smarts are not always necessary for success. Obviously an exceptional case, but Snooki is living proof that you can end up on the New York Times bestseller list even if you spell your name with zeros. Academic scholarship is often put on a pedestal in the higher-ed bubble, and understandably so. But success can also be found through a killer recipe, a great idea, or the ability to fix a faulty furnace better than anyone in the city. Snooki is a reminder–albeit, an exaggerated one–that success is bred from a variety of forms, and not just a stellar transcript.