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Friday, November 30, 2012

Coming to terms with the end of the term.

Today was my last day of lectures in college... well at least for my bachelors degree. It's currently almost 1 AM so this was technically yesterday and just a little bit further back than it was a minute ago.

Many things happened to me this semester that I wasn't anticipating. For one, I never imagined leaving college a semester early, nor did I ever suspect leaving feeling like I made a little home amongst my professors and friends. It's rare to think that you actually feel at home with a group of people. I often think that people tend to overestimate their comfort amongst others and too soon share that they feel "at home" when you aren't quite there yet. It's happened to me before and I think back on it, seeing the unconscious intention of wanting to fit in and wanting it to work out. In the end, we all just want to feel safe and loved really.

My last lecture day was a combination of very different things.

For one, I had to arrive on campus several hours early to present to a class about studying abroad in Ireland. As some of your know, I went over the summer for a month and had a ball. But the interesting part was that today was my third time presenting, but it didn't click that I was actually sharing my experiences abroad and promoting a wonderful trip overseas. Uh yeah... I went overseas. That's not something anyone can say and I did it without having to go in debt!

After the brief 5 minute presentation, I sat outside in the hall because my next class was coincidentally taking place in the same class that I had just presented in. Knowing that I would have 2 hours in between class time, I brought my laptop for the first time on campus in over a year. I couldn't remember the last time I sat there on the cold marble floor with my legs crossed, hunched over my a screen. This semester had been so rushed and on-the-go that I rarely had time to sit in the halls and wait. It was a strange feeling waiting like that...

Then, my Psychology of Women class turned out to be a big twist. We had finished lecture notes so my professor spent the hour discussing grad schools and our options as students. I've been under a lot of anxiety considering what to do next and what's right for me and inherently my future bank account and stomach. She showed us this clip:


My professor went to grad school and worked in research labs for years to get to the place she's at today. As Psych majors, we really have no option to stop at a bachelors degree. We would be limited to basic statistician jobs or maybe as a case manager if we wanted to stay in the field that is... otherwise, higher education is supported by all professors as a path we must take to be in academia or in research.

My issue was that I didn't want to be in either. I wanted to be counseling patients for daily life changes, stress and anxiety management, and really just ways to be happy. But who wants to pay for a Master's degree or Ph.D. program to do that? Apparently, I do... or should if that's where I want to be.

I have nothing against higher education and my professor doesn't either but she made a good point about how we are always under an institution that someone else is benefiting from greatly. What we pay for as students doesn't come around and deliver us with all the benefits that we pay for, therefore deserve. But for the most part, it's unlikely we as a student body will protest to change that beyond an angst conversation amongst students.

We ended up ending the semester-- my last semester-- on this somewhat bittersweet note of having options yet following the social standards of higher education that we have set.

I never thought school was for everyone. Growing up in a traditional family that valued education above all, there was no way I could have not attended college without feeling defeated by my parent's will, rather than my own to succeed. Of course, over time, we develop our own sense of wanting and seek to accomplish primarily for ourselves than others. And for those of us that have not found that yet, it's hard to come by but it's liberating when it does.

I just remember walking out of class, dragging my boots against the marble that I had sprawled across less than an hour ago to walk down 6 flight of stairs alone with my thoughts. The strange thing about feeling alone with your thoughts is that you really are never alone. Every comment and conversation you ever had with anyone is all in there, shuffling around, attempting to take coherent turns amongst your own thoughts. In the end, the most recent thing you've processed or whatever set of words rang loudest gets heard.

The last thing on my list before I could depart from campus was a freshman class observation for my directed readings. It occurred to me as I walked towards on of the newer buildings this class was taking place in on campus that I hadn't seen this side of the city in over a year.

Starting from point A of a triangle, I'd make it to where all of my classes were straight to point B. But here I was walking from point B to point C. Everything looked the same but everything changed. Well... it was more that I had changed in perception than anything else.

The urban park that was more of a field with flower pots was exactly the same. It was less crowded than I remembered-- usually catering to various homeless people as a place to sit and enjoy music. At some point, the city decided to spruce up the park by adding outdoor exercise machines and classical music. I remember walking through it back in sophomore year and thinking... this is weird. Hobos and classical music.

As I entered the building that I once knew so well, I realized I saw everything today for the first time. I always had somewhere to run off to or wait by and today, I saw everyone else doing it. I slowly stepped downstairs to the ground floor where the class was taking place. I had taken political science in the very same class with an white bearded professor who desperately needed hearing aid.

I listened to all of the frustration about finals and professors amongst the chattering students surrounding the classroom door. I saw the vibrant energy in these freshmen and less of the dreary fatigue I was used to amongst the upperclassmen. I wondered, was I this fresh back then? Did upperclassmen look at me and think things like, "you have so much to learn" or "what a kid"?

Maybe.

After that, my day was over. After thoughts of being creative and doing my own thing mixed with all the engraved thoughts of needing grad school settled... I took the train home. This whole semester, I had been using every spare minute to read, to write, to do. For once, I had nothing to read on the train. So I went back to something I was fairly certain I was good at-- watching people.

I saw everyone. I saw travelers heading home from the airport, workers calling it a day, mothers with a screaming toddler and a quiet baby, and students just as dried out as me. I didn't get it. I couldn't see why all of a sudden, I felt tossed and turned... tumbling in a dryer full of familiar things but with a new sheet of fabric softener.

I haven't felt like this for so long-- feeling like an expert yet feeling so amateur. Feeling like your on top, but knowing you're back at the bottom. Is this how accomplishments should feel? Is our society just too burdened by high unemployment rates, educational institutions that don't guarantee jobs, and blinded people who run because they don't think they have the option to sit and think? I hope not.




If I've learned anything in the past 21 years through a lot of institutionalized educational settings, idealism does not lead to rejection and I refuse to work more than play in life.

Don't limit yourself in being a one-trick pony and don't corner yourself into thinking that society has made all your decisions for you already. Think critically about what you know and what you want to find out before taking steps towards something more permanent. That's the lesson I'm taking away from college and that's what I plan on doing. Finally, all of those years of forcing myself to draw out brainstorm webs for high school English essays have paid off.

This is going to be scary. This is going to be fun. Time to be aware, vulnerable, excited, concerned, and most of all-- ready for change.

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