College–what was it good for?

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’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.


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