NEIL YOUNG AND ME: How Neil and His Music Helped Me Through College

by Crystal Avila

“I want to live / I want to give / I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold / I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold / It’s these expressions I never give / That keep me searching for a heart of gold.”

Today I walked around campus listening to one of my favorite songs: “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young. Even though it was raining a bit, the sky was grey, and I still had an hour-and-a-half-long class to get through soon, I felt very happy. After four years of college, I have made amazing friends, learned many things, grown a lot as a person, created a film I have always wanted to make, and have become even closer to my family. As I walked across the quads and buildings, I sang along with Neil as he sings, “I’ve been searching for a heart of gold.” His words never rang truer. To me, Neil is exclaiming that we need to always look for the good in things, in people, and in our own lives. He sings, “I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold” and that “he’s growing old.” No matter how many days he lives, he is always working to find the goodness that is sometimes hidden in a dark musty “mine” and that requires work and perseverance to find and preserve.

Young’s lyrics have very often accompanied me during my time in college. It can be easy to fall into the culture of negativity that is so often found on college campuses and, let’s face it, the world in general. It not just “times like these” that bring uncertainty and endless debates; the world will always have and has always had times such as these. Nothing is new, nor will it ever be. It is easy to get caught up in the negativity and feel so passionate about issues that our passions become combative, far from compassionate and often talked about in a smaller worldview context.

Neil goes on to sing, “I’ve been to Hollywood, I’ve been to Redwood / I crossed the ocean for a heart of gold / I’ve been in my mind, it’s such a fine line / That keeps me searching for a heart of gold.”

Here I take Neil’s lyrics and think how that no matter where we—whether it’s an internship in Hollywood, the swing club, or a super hard and stressful class—we must look for the good and positive in these situations and think outside of ourselves in order to be the positive light to others. Even amidst times that are trying, we can keep searching for a heart of gold and think, “Have I crossed an entire ocean to find at least some goodness in this situation, the person I do not get along with, or class that is just so annoying?” Perhaps the gold is found in our efforts to simply do our best, not taking ourselves so seriously, or even just doing our work as best as we can.

Neil continues to sing, “And I’m getting old / keeps me searching for a heart of gold / And I’m getting old.”

Even though time is passing, he says, never stop searching for gold — that is, never stop being positive about life. No matter what, we will each continue getting older—so why live life not searching for gold, seeing goodness around us and amidst our daily difficulties, both big and small?

In Neil’s final stanza, he sings, “Keep me searching for a heart of gold / You keep me searching and I’m growing old / Keep me searching for a heart of gold / I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold.”

In this final lyric, Neil reminds us that staying positive isn’t always easy, but that we should remember that “you,” who perhaps is “life,” will bring us suffering, joy, and times that require us to decide whether we will live for others or only for ourselves. We must always keep searching and be true miners who find pieces of gold amidst the rocky caves of life.

As a soon-to-be graduate, I do not have a “secret formula that will make your college life amazing,” but I can advise to listen to “Heart of Gold” around campus and think about how important it is to remain positive and joyful through your time in school and for the rest of your life. This is not say that I have always seen everything in a positive light, but rather that I have come to realize that this mindset and way of being can greatly help one enjoy life more and make better use of time.

I know that when I return to campus in years to come, I will look back and see the “pieces of gold” that Notre Dame had given me when I decided to be positive and joyfully invest time into finding and polishing them. These hearts of gold include my beautiful friends, whom I know I will always cherish and love, my family, the professors and faculty who have profoundly impacted me, my relationship with my sister who works at Notre Dame, the times that were very hard but that brought about times of learning, my increasing love for the art of cinema, and the growth of my spiritual life.

“I want to live / I want to give / I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold / I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold / It’s these expressions I never give / That keep me searching for a heart of gold.”

Mindset is an important part of Notre Dame’s campus because it serves as a place where creativity, freedom, and personal reflection on just about anything is valued.

Although I have greatly enjoyed my time at Notre Dame and have been happy to be part of the WVFI and the Mindset team, I am ready to keep searching for those hearts of gold throughout my life. Life was good during college, and I know that it will continue to be so the day after I graduate.

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