You Have Four Years To Be Irresponsible Here. Relax

Tom Petty? Apocryphal?

college11Dear Quote Investigator: There is a piece of controversial advice aimed at college students that I have long suspected was created by an undergraduate to sabotage his fellow students. It contains the suggestion:

You have four years to be irresponsible here, relax. Work is for people with jobs.

Usually the words are attributed to the famous rocker Tom Petty, but I do not think he attended college. Word you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Tom Petty wrote or said this advice. Perhaps at some point Petty or his representative will make a statement claiming or disclaiming the quotation. For now, this short article presents a snapshot of current research.

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a student-run newspaper called “The Observer” serving the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. In October 2003 student Emily Howald published an essay titled “Yeah, college!”, and she presented the quotation as an “excellent piece of advice”, but she did not provide an attribution: 1

If your faith is depleting or you’ve whiffed at having fun, look, as I do, to this excellent piece of advice. Think of it as the voice of reason, the voice of college.

I’ve learned one thing and that’s to quit worrying about stupid things. You have four years to be irresponsible here. Relax; work is for people with jobs. You’ll never remember class time but you’ll remember the time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So stay out late. Go out on a Tuesday night with your friends when you have a paper due on Wednesday. Spend money you don’t have. Drink until sunrise. The work never ends but college does.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In December 2003 the passage appeared in “The Defender” newspaper of St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont. The text was slightly different, e.g., the expression “damn it” was included, and the words were ascribed to Tom Petty: 2

“I’ve learned one thing, and that’s to quit worrying about stupid things. You have four years to be irresponsible here. Relax. Work is for people with jobs. You’ll never remember class time, but you’ll remember time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So stay out late, damn it. Go out on a Tuesday with your friends when you have a paper due Wednesday. Spend money you don’t have. Drink until sunrise. The work never ends, but college does.”

A wise man once said that. It was Tom Petty, that ancient rocker we all know and love. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t take this, in its entirety, too seriously. But the spirit of what he said I take very much to heart.

In 2007 the website “CollegeHumor” published a satirical article titled “An Open Letter to Tom Petty, from a Guy Who Took His College Quote Way Too Literally” in which the author pretended to carefully follow the advice, and the result was unfortunate: 3

Your “advice” has literally ruined my life. Even if my university does decide to readmit me from my academic probation, the issue will be moot; I cannot afford to pay for tuition. (I quit my job immediately after reading your quote.)

I can’t even get a loan because of my terrible credit score. Maybe if a certain someone didn’t decide to tell me to be financially irresponsible none of this would have happened.

In conclusion, QI believes that the ascription to Tom Petty is probably apocryphal, but QI does not know the identity of the actual creator. The passage was circulating by 2003. Perhaps you, dear reader, can convince Tom Petty or his publicist/agent to make an official statement on this topic.

Image Notes: Library La Trobe from andrew_t8 at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Jonathan Blakey whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Also, thanks to Neal Whitman for his feedback.)

Notes:

  1. Website: The Observer, Article title: Yeah, college!, Article author: Emily Howald, Date on website: October 20, 2003, Website description: “The Observer is the student-run, daily print and online newspaper serving Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s”. (Accessed archive section of ndsmcobserver.com on June 26, 2011 and on November 20, 2016) link
  2. 2003 December 22, The Defender, (Newspaper at St. Michael’s College, Vermont via U-Wire), Column: It’s all about choice, Author: Joseph G. Cote, St. Michael’s College is located in Colchester, Vermont. (NewsBank Access World News)
  3. Website: CollegeHumor, Article title: An Open Letter to Tom Petty, from a Guy Who Took His College Quote Way Too Literally, Article author: Jake Klocksien, Date on website: July 3, 2007, Website description: Humor for College Students, (Accessed collegehumor.com on June 26 2011; article removed after this date; Snapshot in Internet Archive Wayback Machine dated June 9 2013) link