The title, though it sounds cynical, is actual genuine. I’m coming to the close of my first year in the “real world” and I’ve been recently thinking a lot about how much of what I learned in college has really stuck with me for the year.
Let’s start with my “general education” classes that were supposed to give me a well-rounded backdrop for my degree. One requirement was that I had to take four science classes, which I thought was a bit much. The biology class I took was basically what I’d already learned in high school. However, I spent the hours in the enormous auditorium classroom doing dictionary.com’s crossword puzzle of the day so…I probably ended up increasing my brain power more in that class than I did in environmental science during which a classmate and I had a running list of all the Beatles’ songs we could remember. However, the nutrition class I got into was definitely helpful in providing me with concrete facts to present to people who tell me that I’m going to die because I’m a vegetarian. The rest of the gen-eds I took didn’t do much for me. I took “humanities” one and two and never even learned what “humanities” are. I did, however, learn how to pronounce the word “baroque” so…maybe it was worth it after all.
It’s fun to talk about all the things I didn’t learn in college, and everything that I’ve definitely left behind in those halls, but there are things that I’ve taken with me from Wisconsin to Illinois, to Denmark to Sweden. I took a seminar class called “Culture of Food” my freshman year (which is also when I became a vegetarian). It stuck with me through a couple years later, when they offered it as a higher-level class which I took instead of an upper-level Spanish class I needed for my minor (oh well), and after loving that one twice as much, I had the opportunity to be a TA for the freshman level class again. Considering that most of the classes I took, I would have gladly never taken, voluntarily participating in the same class three times is proof enough that it was one of the most amazing classes I took in college. I was obviously interested in food enough to take the class in the first place, but afterwards, I think about food almost every moment of the day. I think about the food industry, I think about food prices, varieties, food movements (organic, the slow food movement, vegetarian and vegan diets, etc.). I think about all things food. Everything I’ve learned in that class, I use on an almost daily basis. This awakening of a passion in me alone might’ve made college “worth it” but there was something more.
It wasn’t until my senior year, when I was almost “over” college that we had a new professor join the English department. I took an intermediate-level creative writing class, for my major, and when I walked into that classroom, the first thing our professor told us that it was going to be an all-poetry class, which was greeted by silent groans (yes, there is such a thing as a silent groan). At this point, I was mostly done with my English major, and had been a bit discouraged about it. I had taken an advanced writing class that was focused on short stories and you know what? I am not very good at writing short stories. It made me wonder if I really liked writing at all, if I should’ve majored in Biology (or crossword puzzles). Having an all-poetry class made me realize that Ido like writing, I’m just no good at short stories for adults. My professor made me realize that I have a love for words. I may not have a love for characters or plots, but goodness gracious do I love words. I love metaphors and the mouthfeel of poetry. To me, poetry is somewhere between a song and delicious food. I love being able to ponder over commas, shuffle lines and stanzas. To me, it’s a bit like knitting, but with words and pages in lieu of yarn and needles. After the intermediate class, I took advanced poetry workshop, where a group of about 12 of us met with our professor for three hours every Thursday. We ended up writing a chapbook, which is just a small collection of correlating poetry, and I feel more proud of this than my bachelor’s degree. This little collection was worth all of the classes I sat through because I had to sit through them. It was worth any professor that made my blood boil. It was worth any wasted hours, or projects I deemed pointless.
I think some of the most important things I learned in college, I didn’t learn during my classes (and no, I didn’t learn them during crazy parties either). I learned how good it could feel to not procrastinate. Balancing two jobs and school helped me learn what I wanted to do most in my limited free time. I learned to put the things I care the most about first, and take some failures in stride. I learned what my passions are, and how wonderful it feels to pursue them.
The four years I spent on my bachelor’s degree were definitely “worth it” for me personally. I experienced so much growth, but I’m still not convinced that my actual degree is an appropriate reward for the work I put into it. It’s a very good thing I got so much else out of my college experience, otherwise I feel like I would be one disappointed alumnus.