MINNEAPOLIS—At first glance, Daniel Peterson seems no different than any other student: Wearing a ball cap, he's spent most of the evening browsing YouTube. Soon his buddies will stop by with a six-pack, and they'll pass the time recounting exploits from their recent spring break on South Padre Island. Though his peers might take nights like this for granted, Peterson can never forget those who came before him and paved the way for his educational neglect.
That's because this month the University of Minnesota senior will become the first member of his family to graduate from college without ever having to work hard, apply himself, or expend more than a bare minimum of effort.
"My grandpa wasn't able to afford school until he came back from the war and got help with his tuition through the G.I. Bill," says Peterson, reclining on a futon. "He studied hard and took a job at night so he could support my grandma and dad while he finished his degree."
"Listening to his stories, I promised myself that, no matter what, I would do everything in my power to take it real easy through college," Peterson adds.
His father a successful engineer, his mother a dedicated social worker, this Rochester, MN native grew up dreaming of an education more painless than the one his parents had known. At 17, he received a letter of acceptance from UMN, and at that moment committed himself to five years of sleeping late, drinking often, and sneaking by with a 2.7 GPA. After scuttling plans to major in video game design, Peterson enrolled in the school's American studies program, vowing never to sign up for any class that met before 11 a.m. or required him to write a term paper over five pages.
Generations of sweat, toil, and fingers worked to the bone were finally beginning to pay off.
"That first semester was a challenge," Peterson admits. "As a full-time student, I had to take four classes, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to kick back and just fuck around all the time. But when I'd think about all the sacrifices my family made, I knew I had to do it. I had to do it for them."
Thanks to his parents' foresight, frugal habits, and careful financial planning, Peterson has never had to worry about tuition or consider working to cover living expenses. He shows his gratitude often, stopping by his parents' house twice a month to enjoy a home-cooked meal and relax in front of the TV watching sports.
"My dad worked full-time as a security guard to put himself through college, so I know how lucky I am," Peterson says. "It was his dedication and hard work that made it possible for me to spend last night playing Gears Of War with Chad instead of studying for my cinema history exam."
Still, it's not all playtime for Daniel. When he's not barhopping with friends in Stadium Village, he can often be found in the back of a classroom, doodling in the margins of his notebook and attempting to display a token interest in his studies.
"My father, my father's father, and all those before them—they struggled and gave it their all so I wouldn't have to," Peterson says. "Sure, I could do what everyone else my age does, studying really hard because my parents spent 20 years carefully setting aside money for my education. But I won't do that to my mom and dad. Not when I can blow off class and do just enough cramming at the end of the semester to pull a B-minus."
When he's finished with school, the 23-year-old plans to continue honoring the Peterson name by living off his graduation money for a few months and then maybe temping for a while until he figures out what he wants to do next.
His attitude hasn't gone unnoticed by his parents.
"I don't think Daniel is taking his studies seriously," Peterson's father says. "When he comes home, I never see him crack a book. He's always out with his friends or on the Xbox. And now he's talking about maybe going to grad school."
"This is everything a father could want for his son," he adds. "I am so proud."