08 May 2012

The End (of College)

                I knew it had happened when reading a professor’s positive evaluation of my research paper brought tears to my eyes. Finally, the reality of being finished with college was hitting me, and I was getting all emotional about it. During the last four years, I have insisted to myself on a number of occasions that when I was finally finished with school, I would not be sad about the end, I would just be happy to have it all over with. And every time I said that, I knew it wouldn’t come true. I just felt like saying it anyways.

                I graduate from college in eleven days. I have three more class periods to attend and three more final exams to take. It’s not quite over yet. But today, for one last time I took the padlock off the #4 locker that I have commandeered since 2008, and I experienced an overwhelming sense of finality. It really is over. Before long, I really won’t belong here anymore, in these hallways I’ve paced up and down and in these classrooms where I’ve labored over many an essay test. After four years here, I feel like I know my way around. I’ve been in the underground tunnels, I’ve gotten into locked buildings, I’ve napped on every floor of the library, and I’ve taken a class in every building on campus except the Engineering building. But soon, this won’t be my campus to wander anymore.

In a few days, I won’t be a college student anymore.

On this occasion, two of my grandpa’s favorite sayings seem appropriate. “Education is expensive,” and “Did you learn anything?” The first one is obvious to anyone who has looked at the price of tuition and textbooks lately. The second one is a question I’ve been asked nearly every year on my birthday by either my grandpa or my mom, with the meaning being that, if you have gone a whole year of your life without learning anything, you really haven’t lived well. After four years of college, I thought it was about time that I reflect a few things I have learned from this experience.

I’ve learned:

1.       Mandarin Chinese. My Mandarin leaves much to be desired, but my very last project for my fourth-year Chinese class was to translate a love song or poem. I chose “A Woman Like You” by Lee Bryce, and I was proud of my ability after all these years to craft a rough but grammatically correct translation of my favorite country song.

2.       Enough Spanish to get the gist of the conversations I inevitably find myself in the middle of or eavesdropping on. And enough Spanish to feel comfortable instituting “español miércoles” in my house, beginning May 23.

3.       That I really am a language geek. I used to try to deny it. In high school, I got high grades in everything (perhaps partially because I graded my own work) and I considered myself moderately interested and proficient in all subjects. In college, I studied three languages in addition to English and decided if I all I had to do in college was study languages, I’d never leave. I am fascinated by the etymology of Chinese characters and felt a special thrill this morning when my Spanish professor took the time to point out to the class that the Spanish ojalá, which means “I wish, I hope” comes from Arab origins, from a phrase meaning “God willing.”

4.       Sometimes the very best thing you can do right before a history midterm is to let that cute guy buy you Baskin Robbins ice cream and chat with him until the very last minute before the test. I got a 99% on that test and to this day, more than two years later, I still remember how good that ice cream was.

5.       Not all professors are evil. And not all of them are good either. For any would-be students, talk to other students and do your research before you choose a class with a certain professor. The quality of the professor can determine the course of your semester.

6.       How to write a paper on anything. Literally. In the last four years I’ve written papers on Malaysia’s New Economic Policy, Sherlock Holmes, Southeast Asia’s perspective on American sports, baseball card statistics, Confucianism, Aristotle, the Iliad, and corn-based ethanol. If I actually remembered everything that I’ve written in my class papers, I’d have enough information in my head to bore everyone in my general vicinity.

7.       How to handle rejection. Okay, not really. That probably always will be hard. But during the last few years, I’ve been turned down after interviewing for a job I thought I was well-qualified for, and inexplicably fired from a job that I had performed excellently at. I’ve had professors who mercilessly criticized a paper I thought was especially genius. I’ve had dozens of articles and short stories rejected by would-be publishers. And each time, I’ve lived. Rejection isn’t fun at the time, but it isn’t the end of the world either. That’s a good thing to know.

8.       To always choose friends over studying. Angel has mentioned to me that one thing he noticed about me early on was that I never rejected an invite to hang out with our crowd on the basis of a need to study. Apparently he found that so unusual and attractive that he married me. Studying is necessary, but I’m grateful I learned early on how to get it done efficiently and at the most appropriate times so that I was free to make plenty of memories of days and nights spent with friends.

9.       God’s plans are better than mine. To me, and to everyone else out there, for a Chinese major, spending a full semester in Beijing for free (due to extra scholarships I had lined up) sounds like a wonderful idea. Anyone who would refuse the offer for no good reason must be crazy. But it turned out God had a much better plan for fall semester of my Junior year, which included countless hours spent with my cellphone and a couple of hours planning wedding.
I believe that the last four years and the money invested in my education has been worth it. I'm not terribly sure exactly how what I have learned will be used as I continue in life but I'm quite convinced that it will be.
Emma said...

I just graduated college as well. Good luck with all of your future endeavors! :)