Everybody has an opinion on college/higher ed, and mine is that it is what you make it, if you are lucky to receive higher education at all. As a young adult with generations of graduate degrees in my family, it was never question of whether or not I was going to go to college, more college, and even more college. As a millennial from a suburban city full of entitled millennials, I constantly found myself defending my decision. After accepting the rhetoric provided to me on the importance on an education and never questioning it, I didn’t know what to say when people told me that college doesn’t make you a better person. I listened to my friends who are aspiring musicians and waitresses explain to me that going to college made me a sellout. The skills that they have you can’t learn in a classroom and the only way to find yourself is by backpacking through southeast Asia and taking pictures with elephants. I watched them share articles entitled ‘don’t go to college, seriously don’t do it,” and comment on the fact that they were too busy discovering themselves to conform to a societal mold.
I’m here to say that I found myself in college, by working hard and accomplishing difficult goals. I have travelled, lived in war torn cities, and contemplated the fulfillment I would receive from devoting my full energies to music making. There is nothing that has helped me discover and grow more as a human being as my college education, particularly my time in graduate school. College has provided me with the skills, relationships, and knowledge to contribute meaningfully to society. College has allowed me to follow a career trajectory that is both overwhelmingly challenging, and personally fulfilling. It is true, it is not necessarily all learned within the walls of a classroom or a desperate all-night frantic paper writing session. Rather, it is the lessons that we learn from those experiences that afford us the capabilities to reside professionally in a bureaucratic society and be respected agents of change.
Of course, college doesn’t inherently make us better, happier people. You can be a hard working productive member of society without a college degree, and you can have a college degree but be harmful to yourself and your community. Partying through 4 years of your early adulthood and doing the bare minimum to get a C- doesn’t do you or society any favors. However, if we take the skills learned in college seriously, and put forth the effort to apply them in a meaningful context, our careers have the capacity to be stable, fulfilling, and bring good to the world that we live in. It’s true, my years of financial dependency upon my parents and sitting in a classroom don’t make an inherently better person, but it’s what I take from those years and do in the future that matters.