What I Really Learned In College

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. TC mark

image – John Walker

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  • Guest

    I learned that in high school.

    • PrinceCharming

      And you learn more of it in College

  • http://twitter.com/jarrodcohen Jarrod Cohen

    I learned how to fuck mad bitches in college. Where’d you go?

    • TO

      You new here?

  • coffeeandinternets

    You summed up one of the most important aspects of college in your intro — it’s about getting you in the habit of doing things you don’t want to do.

    I have friends who’ve given the excuse that the reason they need college was because they could learn whatever they wanted to on their own.  I concede that’s true.  However, upper-level education isn’t necessarily about the content of the courses, at least from my perspective.  For me, it was about acquiring skills like waking up when I didn’t want to wake up, doing papers I didn’t want to do, and consistently going to classes that I didn’t want to sit through.  There are certainly individuals out there with the self-motivation to be able to do this stuff without going through university, but I have dated enough college drop-outs to know that the real reason behind bypassing these institutions is often laziness.

    Sometimes — okay, a lot of the time — life sucks in that we have to do unpleasant shit. We have to go to work most of the days a week and even if we enjoy our field, it can become mind numbing.  We all have our version of TPS reports, and lord knows it’s a goddamn shame to be stuck in an office during the summer when it seems like everyone around you is off gallivanting in beaches and pastures or whatever.  But unless you are a trustfunder or have a passion for panhandling, having responsibilities is a given when you’re an adult. A boring, no-fun-ever having, adult.

    But TGIF, amirite?

    • Tom

      Seems to me like you otta be writing one of these articles

    • http://twitter.com/mung_beans Mung Beans

      You could learn all that shit about waking up early and responsibility and having to do shit you don’t want to do by getting a job at Wendy’s.  

      • coffeeandinternets

        …which is why I said, “there are certainly individuals out there with the self-motivation to be able to do this stuff without going through university..”

        But working at Wendys will at least allow you to be a money earner, as opposed to a money ower, considering how many graduates are in hilarious amounts of debt in America.

      • http://twitter.com/mung_beans Mung Beans

        No, yeah, I’m not trying to say everyone should go to college for the ~magical learning environment~ or anything.  Drop-out status right here.  

    • Na

      LOL. I hate this reaching argument that every college attender insists on whipping out when they’re confronted with the fact that they wasted tons of money and time (if they were unfortunate enough to have to pay their own way, which most seem to be). 

      I’m not about to pay thousands of dollars to learn ‘life skills’ that life could teach me for free. 

    • Na

      LOL. I hate this reaching argument that every college attender insists on whipping out when they’re confronted with the fact that they wasted tons of money and time (if they were unfortunate enough to have to pay their own way, which most seem to be). 

      I’m not about to pay thousands of dollars to learn ‘life skills’ that life could teach me for free. 

  • Sarah

    How the fuck did you get through college –as an English major no less– without knowing what a gerund is? A gerund is a verbal noun. I think we learned that one in middle school…

    • Mila Jaroniec

      Those of us who had nothing better to do than pay attention in middle school, I guess.,

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1074069736 Consuelo María Lucero

    Same feelings here, re Poetry! I too am an English graduate. :) 

  • FromTheFuture

    A gerund is like -ing and shit.

  • A.

    The only thing I learned in college is not to drink more than 2 Four Lokos. Yep, that’s it. At least your list has some educational shit.

  • Anonymous

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    • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

      Tiffany, huh?  I do like Tiffany…dare I give into your spam?

  • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

    I learned that I’m only at the bottom tier of the hierarchy of geeks.  I’m gonna say computer scientists are at the top.  In high school, we were all sort of lumped together in one group. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

    I learned that I’m only at the bottom tier of the hierarchy of geeks.  I’m gonna say computer scientists are at the top.  In high school, we were all sort of lumped together in one group. 

  • Sesame snaps

    “Apparently, the promise of an afterlife helps some people deal with the crippling realization of their mortality?”

    Seriously? I can’t detect sarcasm on the interwebs– is your “who knew?” for real? This, to me, is so screamingly obvious that I thought everyone just took it as fact. Just remove “apparently” and the question mark and you’re all set.

    Con-GRAD-ulations, by the way.

  • http://twitter.com/AmyBarkham Amy Barkham

    “I graduated college about a month ago with a humanities degree and a devastated bank account.” Well, look at you Mila, summing up my post grad problems in 25 words or less.

  • http://profiles.google.com/ecnadac11 Constant Writer

    College is really about learning how to follow directions than learning stuff. That’s sure a lot of money to pay for brainwashing.

    • Edeson

      This is the Romanticism professor, isn’t it

  • Brent Ryan

    College shows your ability to learn.  When you start a job, the employer will “train” you to do the job they want.  Some college’s are better at preparing students for said job and so they tend to be worth more to employers.  Like M.I.T. for Engineers.

    Also, a smile and a good attitude will get you far in the free market.  Always try to find the bright side even if it’s rainy.  Especially during an interview.

  • macgyver51

    With that kind of attitude, you’ll be a bartender at that dive bar before you know it! Keep going!

    • Mila Jaroniec

      Haha – that wouldn’t be funny if I wasn’t one already ;)

  • mmk

    May not seem like much, and it isn’t, but college just teaches you how to adapt and learn new things. Most employers will give you training on the exact job you’ll be doing and that degree shows them that you can learn and put in time to learn.

  • Guest

    How the fuck do you not know what a gerund is if you graduated with a degree in English? Moreover, how the fuck do you not know what a gerund is if you know the word gerund? 

  • Anonymous

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  • Anonymous

    Sadly, your diploma qualifies you to make lattes at Starbucks or flip burgers.  Now the real work begins.  Now you must unlearn all the dogma you were taught at College and relearn inquisitiveness and insightful thought.  You are now operating under a false paradigm of the world around you and require full deprogramming if you are to become a viable member of society.  Either that or you need a rich man to take care of you.

    • sh

      I like the rich man idea.

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