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What You Get For a B.A.

Published: February 17, 2012
Section: Opinions


Conventional wisdom tells us that we’ll forget 90 percent of everything we learn in college. When we say this as a joke, laugh and complain about how unfortunate it is that we cram textbooks-worth of information into our brains and pour them out into a blue-book. Rarely do we take a moment to reflect on how sad this whole process is. No matter how well we think we know something, no matter how well we do on our exams, the words last longer on the page than in our minds. No wonder our books are so much heavier than our heads. If this is true, what’s the point of going to college? What do we get out of our four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars besides that flimsy diploma? A job? To quote my mother, “in this economy? Oy.” So what then? What’s the point?

As dismal as this outlook makes the liberal arts, there is some redeeming value to this whole system. It does not reside in the textbooks and notebooks we—well, I—save. We’ll never really read through those things again. It isn’t the learning we do outside of the classroom, though there is no denying that the growing up we hopefully accomplish in college helps to define our futures. Let’s forget about all the things “we’re supposed to get” from our classes and think about what we actually get. What are the things we really come away with from all the hours spent in class?

The answer, I think, is something residual like the calm feeling that can come over you when you look at a picture you took on vacation. You don’t always know it’s there but then it makes itself known when you need it most. It is the grime that is left when we toss the books from the shelves of our mind and empty our hearts of campus melodrama. Like mold, it grows in the darkness when we don’t think about it. These imagines might be gross, but they illustrate the organic nature of the way we learn. Some things stick and grow along with us and some things fall off and die. The books and papers die away. Something remains and lives on inside of us, making us stronger.

That thing is …

Of course, I don’t speak from any experience. I am just a romantic senior with a cynical shell, months away from the real world whether I’m ready or not. Looking back on the hours spent studying, the trials and tribulations of papers and exams and the prospect of potentially leaving the cozy confines of Waltham for the fearsome wilderness of his parents’ house. This piece is more of a prayer than it is a conviction. I don’t know exactly what it is actually we come away from college with. People say it’s the skills to succeed in the world, the ability to be a productive and thoughtful contributor to society, and, above all, the ability to find and attain those things that will make you most happy in life, whatever they may be. I don’t really think it’s that either.

What I think, no, what I hope is a sense of confidence. Of course, it is nice to graduate with knowledge and skills as I hope we all will to one extent or another, but I think there’s something more. I hope we graduate with the confidence that we could somehow transform from the starry-eyed, bewildered and strange people we were when we first came to this cold corner of the academia into something resembling a human being. If we remember anything, if we retain anything from our time at Brandeis, I hope it’s that we conquered this phase in life, we passed the tests with flying colors and you better believe we can do it again. We might all still be lost. From what I’ve heard we’re all going to be lost for a long, long time. I hope our college experience will give us the courage to forge ahead and find our way through the unknown. If it’s anything like coming to college, then I’m sure we’ll all be smiling soon enough.