What I Actually Learned From College, Part One

I am a reflector. I revisit the past to draw parallels, to connect the dots. I usually do this around significant moments of my life. I set out to write 15 things that I learned in college just before I graduated with the Class of 2015 at the University of Utah. I received my Bachelor’s of Art degree in English/French. My goal was to make it a series, like I did before my 21st birthday.

However, it didn’t really work out. I sat down to write, and felt like I had nothing to say, like I couldn’t pin point anything that I actually learned worth talking about. School really took it out of me; I sensed that my voice was expected to be silenced, ratified to accommodate institutional expectations — I felt as if my being was being reduced to a single-page resume or a statistical number, a tuition payment, a parking space, another name on the role. I was far too average to be exceptional.  Over my college career, I found and lost my voice simultaneously. It has taken me almost a month after graduation to get my voice back. It has taken some debrief to remember that whether or not anyone cares what I have to write or say, I have to say it. It has taken time to come back to myself, aside from the books and the papers.

Talking about graduation warranted two conversations:

Q: “So what’s next?”
A: I had a job that I really loved, and was ready to move to San Francisco to pursue a life there. Long story short, I didn’t go. I’ll never understand why things worked out the way they did, but I have to believe there is something bigger and better in store. A couple weeks before graduation I accepted a job doing Audits/Billing for a start-up DME (Durable Medical Equipment) company.
Q: Oh, did you get your degree in Accounting?
A: No, because you are not limited to what your college degree is. You are limited by the level of motivation to learn things on your own, outside of class room, outside of a text book, outside of regurgitating information. I didn’t get a degree in Entrepreneurship either, but that doesn’t mean I do not or cannot live, perform, or work like one.
Q: Oh,.. is that what you wanted to do?
A: No. But here I am, getting paid to learn a complicated, yet necessary, industry. At a start-up, we (all the employees) matter. I am not 1/1,000,000 at a big corporation, I am not just another number, another person on payroll. Everything I do has some effect, and affect. In the grand scheme, I have a pretty full resume compared to some, and a small one compared to others. I can afford to step outside of my “job narrative” for a year. I still write for SLUG Magazine, and maintain my creativity and publishing experience; I am not limited to doing what my ‘job title’ suggests. I believe life is a series of gives and takes. I have done a lot of taking in the last 6 months, it’s my time to give back. So, for now, my 9-5pm is ok with me — I have a good job out of school that allows me to pay for rent, bills, and my adventures. Also, I’m learning a lot. How can I be upset about that? I have hopes and dreams without expiration dates, I’m not worried, I’m taking what comes, and doing my best with it.

AND

Q: “Aren’t you going to miss college?”
A: No. My experience is that Universities treat us as commodities before they treat us as students, or people. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to pursue a college education, and to receive a degree in the Arts. However, I felt that if I wasn’t in the most popular and most funded major/department, I was going to spend the majority of my college career over-charged, over-looked, and over-achieving. I never felt supported financially or academically. Instead, I was talked down to, if spoken to at all. I had a few great professors, and many not-so-great ones. I chose a degree that interested me, that intrigued me, and inspired me, but I was, and am, continuously criticized and questioned for choosing something easy, general, and irrelevant to employers. The truth is, I have received marketing and business development positions over candidates with degrees in those fields. The mistake is thinking that college and degrees are sure-ways to find employment and that a degree alone somehow make us suddenly entirely more (or less) qualified than others, but that’s just not true. Degrees help, but don’t make the mistake in thinking you are only what you study. Because who you are matters, too, but last time I checked, few professors run a PowerPoint presentation on character, open-mindedness, independent thought and learning.
Q: “Are you nervous about entering the ‘real world’?”
A: Have I not been living in the real world? For 90% of my college career, I worked 40 hours a week + school. My parents helped as much as they could, while still having to balance their own lives. I am so grateful for everything they did for me, whether it was as much financial support as they could give at the moment, or for listening to me talk on-and-on about Don Quixote. For the most part, I paid my own rent, paid my own bills, paid for my own school. The ‘real world,’ is a nuanced way to describe life, and living responsibly. The term ‘real world’ is used by those who treat schooling and education as the time of your life to live irresponsibly, as if you must sacrifice the wild, youthful pieces of yourself after college. The truth is, not every student neglects responsibilities during college, and not every person grows up after finishing college. I don’t see how being a college graduate makes life less enjoyable, less youthful. I see being out of college as being let out of a cage. I can learn on my own terms, on my own dime, on my own time, without someone being paid to dictate my worth and my potential without really knowing me.

Learning goes beyond attending class, taking notes, and passing exams. The college years are more than educational years, they are pivotal character-building and breaking years.  Being an English major clued me in on the irrelevance of school, ironically. I’m back to writing, and recklessly voicing my opinions, so stay tuned for my detailed list of what I actually learned in college. Cheers.

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