I graduated college about a month ago with a humanities degree and a devastated bank account. As a parting gift, my school gave me a marbled piece of heavy paper with Old English font all over it. The fact that I have this means that I crammed for (and passed!) countless exams, successfully BS’ed a number of research papers, participated in many an inane group project and consistently woke up at 7:30 with a hangover for the classes with attendance policies. I earned that diploma, damn it, and I have the permanent dark circles under my eyes to prove it.
Despite this, I couldn’t shake the sneaking suspicion that my diploma was more like a “Congratulations on jumping through the hoops!” award than a testament to what I had really learned in my four years at school. A diploma is no reflection of knowledge – it is a reflection of having completed the right number of credit hours while maintaining a good GPA. Plenty of idiots have diplomas.
So what did I learn in school? I sure as hell didn’t learn statistics, or set theory, or anything useful in biology, judging from that D+. I have no idea what a gerund is, or how to calculate the volume of a cylinder. Despite having been an English major, I have somehow avoided reading Moby Dick and Great Expectations all these years. I sincerely hope the First Law of Thermodynamics is “You don’t talk about thermodynamics,” since that’s the best guess I can venture.
I don’t think, however, that my diploma is a total lie. Even though I don’t know the aforementioned things, and most certainly don’t know the things I pretended to know on tests, I do know a few really important things (I use the term “important” loosely) that will stay with me until the end. Here are a few of them.
Poetry is not feelings. Poems are poems because they adhere to some type of structure. My critical writing professor, who refused to give me an A up to the very end, brought it to my attention that no amount of feeling, no matter how poignant, will amount to a decent poem if there is no structure to glue it together. I’m glad I learned this because it confirmed my suspicion that I am horrible at poetry and should just stick to prose.
The reason for religion. One afternoon in October, my Romanticism professor said, “People have religion because they don’t want to die.” If I hadn’t been in class that day, I might have never understood the somewhat bizarre phenomenon of faith. Apparently, the promise of an afterlife helps some people deal with the crippling realization of their mortality. Who knew?
The connection between Four Loko and multiple personalities. Drinking more than one can of Four Loko will inevitably turn you into five different people, all of them nightmares. If you are going to be drinking Ocho Loko, do not call/text/look at/think about your boyfriend, girlfriend, roommate, or roommate’s boyfriend or girlfriend. In fact just leave your phone at home that night – your relationships will thank you.
How to dress the part – or not. There is no better way to convince people that you are a person who does certain things than to look like a person who does those things. This is the whole idea behind “business casual” – your interviewer is likely to believe you are professional and good at stuff if you show up looking like you wake up every morning thinking about optimization and systems management. Unfortunately, your appearance can often work against you. I learned this by being a high-heeled, lipsticked blonde in an advanced Plato seminar.
What it feels like to be loved. Someone who truly loves you will be kind, infinitely supportive, and genuinely happy to see you. They will love you for the person you are, flaws and neuroses included, rather than for some bullshit good-on-paper reason like looks or credentials. If you screw up, they will give you a million second chances, because as long as you want to be with them, they will want to be with you. They will sit with you in the ER all night and let you know it’s okay to be scared. They won’t be afraid to be naked in front of you, literally and figuratively. Even though I somehow managed to screw up the great relationship that inspired this reflection, I am grateful for having been truly loved – I now know what to look for in the next person I open my heart to. I know I won’t settle.