Friday, June 05, 2009

On Colleges and Graduation

A dozen thoughts scamper through my mind as I hold my graduation cap and gown, including Business & Economics tassel, and a blue cord for high grade achievement.

Who invented these gowns, and then decided that a graduate was not properly attired without one? They do, after all, look a bit absurd. (Bill Cosby’s routine with Theo’s flat-top graduation cap comes to mind.) But nevertheless…I earned this uniform, and by jove, I’m going to wear it. I’ve been through more than 40 classes to get this gear, and now that I’ve got it…oh dear, is this me getting a little nostalgic?

I start to look around the halls I hated and maybe even feared when I first started, and now that compulsory attendance is through, I’m almost starting to feel fond about them. And I’m thinking a hundred different thoughts about how this school is so messed up. How can the university expect to achieve their coveted Top 20 status, when they can’t even make the sink knobs turn the same direction? Every single sink is different; some knobs both turn left, some both right, and all manner of combinations in between. Seriously, what’s with that? It’s like a game of odds to see if you’ll actually see water on your first try. And what about those doorless stalls? I wouldn’t go near them, and I haven’t seen anyone who does. (To say nothing of the graffiti.)

What’s with that?

I ask that question about a hundred other things on this campus. What’s with the people who come to the “free speech” zone and preach their hateful version of Christianity all day long? It gave me multiple opportunities to plant seeds of the true Gospel, but it was still unpleasant and in bad taste.

And what’s with denying students the right to meaningful self-defense on campus? Why am I a responsible citizen licensed by my state to carry a concealed firearm for protection, but upon crossing an invisible barrier onto a college campus, I’m suddenly breaching an academic code of conduct and subject to expulsion? “Knock on wood” never was a good security policy.

I’m also thinking back to the multiplicity of ways in which I’m different than when I started. In a ton of ways, we graduates are radically different than the whippersnappers we wouldn’t admit to being when we started. In other ways, we just spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to get a little slip of paper saying we’re smart, educated, and ready for a job. Of course in reality, when interviewing for a job, that degree is only going to be part of the equation. We still have to impress them with skill sets we never learned in college.

Along that line, it occurs to me that college really doesn’t do a good job of preparing you for the “real world.” Really, it’s a farce; never again are you going to be in a classroom after four or five months of learning, required to regurgitate the culmination of those five months in the proper order on the paper in front of you, else you will not succeed.

For that matter, college spends the first two years or so teaching you material that you’ll seldom need, just to ensure that you’re a “well-rounded” individual, yet they teach you very little about practical life skills. In my ideal world, you would learn a little of everything. Medicine and first aid, finances and mechanics, car repair, electronics, cooking, CPR and so forth. In short, as author Robert Heinlein put it, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

I can’t help but think about the grades I didn’t get. Dr. Cho’s awful political science class, where out of 90 examinees, only 10 got an A and 60% of the class got a C or lower. Or Dr. Yu’s class, where despite not speaking intelligible English, he also managed to fail utterly at genuine instruction of students. I sure wish he’d focused more on regression analysis. That was almost fun. (A mate in the econ department, and a data set from a professor in Florida helped me pass.) Still, it was cool to have the lead SEC football kicker in the class with me. That Finance 300 class was an absolute beast too…the first time I ever failed a test.

I remember Dr. Dahlstrom’s class, and how much like a politician he looked on stage, and how our final exam review was interrupted by a student proposing to his girlfriend. I could tell stories about half the professors, instructors and teaching assistants in the business department, and probably most of the political science professors. I’m still friends with many of them.

The classes I enjoyed the most are the ones that sparked creative streaks in my mind, to the point where I was furiously jotting down notes to myself for later; thoughts about blog entries, articles, arguments, philosophies, new insights on debate points I’ve shared, and so forth. Big Questions. They weren’t always related to the class material, but the class was clearly igniting the animus of the brain. In particular, my debate class of my final year. The professor had a way of plucking out abstract concepts of argumentation and rhetoric and crystallizing them inside a concrete frame of discussion, like a scientist putting an actual specimen under the microscope for investigation.

During my junior year, I was suddenly catapulted into some measure of public figure status, when I joined forces with Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. The idea was novel and not always well-received, but it led to local TV and radio appearances, a newspaper article about me in one of the state’s biggest papers, a position conducting media interviews, live radio appearances (at least one to a nationwide audience), a small amount of notoriety on campus, a conference in Washington DC, legislative efforts across multiple states, and eventually, a spot on the Board of Directors. That’s all been awesome, and it’s barely the beginning.

I’m also relieved. Mostly because, thanks to the fact that I transferred from the community college to the university just as the two were engaging in a corporate divorce, I had multiple loose ends to sew up…including proving to the college that I actually did take English 101. (One would think that when I take 200 level English courses for which ENG101 is prereq, it would be no great leap to assume I took 101.) I had to take some Microsoft Office certifications during that last year, approve a writing sample for a 2nd Tier English Writing Requirement, a CLEP test for sociology, and all sorts of fun details…on top of law school applications.

But transcending all the individual thoughts is the idea that I’ve actually done it. I’ve survived that beast men call “college” and I’ve conquered it. Better than that, I’ve excelled, and in a business program that required its fair share of difficult math classes.

Yet, I notice when you read the biographies of important figures past or present, the college degree – this great four-year struggle to get educated, enlightened and experienced in the Ways of the World – is mentioned only in passing, if it’s mentioned at all. Despite all the emphasis placed on this sacred education, in the end it’s little more than a springboard out into the Real World.

Fortunately, through various different experiences detailed in this blog entry and others, I feel myself more than capable of taking on the adventures that lie ahead. One of which may simply be to reenter the academic environment at a higher level…law school.

Bring it on.

"Many a venture herebefore
Hath fallen such as this;
May He that bore the grown of thorn
Bring us unto His bliss."

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