Almost a year and a half ago, I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and a minor in Creative Writing. It took me eight and a half years, and it was sometimes hard to find the motivation to finish. My job at the time only required an Associates or equivalent number of college hours. I had learned everything I needed to learn. There wasn’t any reason to finish other than to get the credentials.
I graduated from Hillcrest High School in the spring of 2003 with a ton of honours, trophies from speech and debate, a great ACT score, a full-ride scholarship to Missouri State, and a lot of excitement about moving out of my mom’s house in the near future.
And then I discovered that I didn’t know how to study, I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did about everything, and in retrospect, I certainly didn’t know how hard it would be to finish. I lost my scholarship, dropped out for a while, and when I came back, it was with the sole goal of finishing up and getting that piece of paper.
I feel like the reality of it being a new year is just settling in for me. This is not just a year, though, this is the year. This one is going to count for something.
For starters, I’m going to get my bachelor’s degree.
I’ve had a night to talk with April and sleep.
When April and I were first getting together (longer ago than I thought… 4 years now? 4.5?), I was questioning the value of a college degree. I had decided to pursue a career with Computer Services at Missouri State University, and the IT industry doesn’t seem to care a whole lot for degrees. Experience and knowledge were important, and demonstrable expertise were far more valuable than a degree or even a certification. Therefore, I was considering laying off the diploma-track and pursuing certs to make myself more attractive to Computer Services.
April was adamantly against that pursuit. As she put it last night, until very recently she has had the college diploma on a pedestal. People ought to pursue and achieve it, and those that didn’t were worse for it. I pressed her on this years ago, pointing out people who were perfectly happy and content to work jobs where a degree was not required, and I asked why, in their cases, should they get a degree? She didn’t have an answer, but maintained it was important.
It has always been assumed that I would go to college and get a degree. My family, my friends, everyone around me… it’s just What You Did. For the last several years, I haven’t really had any friends who weren’t in college, and I greatly respect them and the education I have received. I was very proud of going to college myself–neither of my parents had, and only my sister had (and it took her longer than it is taking me). I was going to Do It Right. I went right after high school, didn’t get anyone pregnant, was getting a degree…
The thought of not finishing my degree program does not make me happy. I was pretty upset when faced with the prospect last night.
But the thought of finishing my degree program makes me equally unhappy. What’s more, looking down the road, I don’t foresee its completion as bringing happiness. I feel like I am trapped between unhappiness and unhappiness in this.
So when was the last time I was happy and fulfilled? I have certainly been happy in circumstances, whether spending time with friends or laughing with April, but I haven’t felt happy and fulfilled in life since just before I broke my collarbone.
And what was unique about that time? The semester had just ended and I had more time to write. I was writing for an hour or two daily and six hours on Saturday, and what’s more, I had the prospect of more time for writing in less than a month. ((April and I were traveling a lot for different events at the time, and I was going to have lots of time to write after that travel concluded. Unfortunately, the final weekend of travel, I broke my collarbone and could no longer write.)) I felt like I was finally doing something, and being productive. My life was worthwhile.
As April realized that a diploma is not everything in the world, she said, “Finishing your degree will not make you a better person.”
I wrote last night that I didn’t want to be defined by my degree, but I wasn’t able to articulate that well until after she and I talked more late last night. The thing is, for the last several years my college education has been a waste of time. Except for my Buddhism class a year ago, I haven’t learned anything. For the last several years, I have been showing up, putting in my time, and waiting to get my degree.
Therefore, the degree has come to represent a waste to me. I have wasted years waiting to get this stupid piece of paper, and for what? When I think of everything I could have been doing for the last several years, ((I took most of my major classes early in my college career because I enjoyed them most, so the last few years have been almost 100% General Education.)) it makes me sick. On one hand, if I’m not getting the degree, that spent time was a waste. On the other, it was a waste anyways, and going for another two years isn’t going to change that. It will just extend the wastefulness.
I don’t want to be defined by something that is so worthless and wasteful. I want to be defined by something I enjoy and in which I find fulfillment.
If I meet with my advisor and she goes to the head of the department and he says, “Sure, no problem. You’ve taken the classes, we’ll let you graduate regardless,” then I will complete this semester, and I will complete next semester, and I will graduate.
It’s a matter of convenience, nothing else. Being seven months away, just the rest of this semester and then next semester, is something I can stomach. I can discipline myself and put my life (my very life!) on hold for another seven months.
If that doesn’t happen (and I can’t imagine them waiving what appears to be an important part of the Bachelor’s degree requirements), I will fill out my paperwork today. I will meet with my current professor and explain the situation. I will drop out.
And then I will begin a book of poetry that tells the story of my college career. I will write and seek happiness.
We don’t have much time here. What our are lives worth?
I have one more quote to pull from the Reddit thread I read the other day.
I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.
I haven’t had a degree for ever, and my life has been just fine. Will getting one change that?
Oh, and perhaps one more.
Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.
I know the value of an education.
I am no longer getting one, whether I’m in class or not. At best, most of my courses since my sophomore or early junior year have been book recommendations. At worst, I have floated through them (while getting decent grades) just to pass the time and reach the goal of a diploma.
Taking another five classes for the sole reason that they are 300-level or above, and that have no bearing on my degree of study, will not be educating me in the things I want, nor in the things I need to pursue my goals. There is no return for that investment.
Perhaps getting a degree would help me get a better job. And perhaps I will be laid off someday, and will curse not having my diploma.
I will have to cross and subsequently burn those bridges when I get to them. Nothing says I couldn’t go back in the future, and if nothing else, I have learned time management and how to Do College. I’m pretty confident I could pull off 21 or 24 hours of college classes without a problem at this point, ((This is assuming I’ve been laid off and therefore don’t have a job–what would be the point of finishing my degree, otherwise?)) and I marvel that more people don’t.
April has been learning to live and be happy in the moment. I think I’d like to give that a try.
What would a life fulfilled be like? I think I want to learn.