What I Learned in College
I received my official Bachelor's of Science degree last week. That was weird.
The harsh reality of not starting Autumn Quarter this week is beginning to set in. Though I'm not devastated, it sure feels strange. It's been about three-ish months since graduation and I'm easing my way into post-grad life aka reality aka trying my best to be a functioning adult.
Earlier this summer, Gina and I had the opportunity to meet with one our high school math teachers who taught us for multiple years and played an integral part in our higher education journey. In our conversation, he asked what I had learned as a recent college graduate. And of course I learned a TON of things. More than I'll ever want to know about plants and invertebrates, but I now know how the world actually functions from a biological perspective. Y'all, the human body is wild and evolution is actually super boring, but it's crazy to think how far we've come from our primate ancestors.
With each quarter, new knowledge entered and I dumped the previous quarter's information like *that*. For me, I think I learned way more outside of the classroom. I've got an expensive piece of paper that is the key to a plethora of doors, toiled through physics labs and organic chemistry, and stayed up in the early hours of the day, but everything I learned outside of the classroom will stay with me for the rest of my life (yeah, yeah, super cheesy and cliché, but let's face it, life is way too ironic). Our talk got me thinking about my four years at UW and I decided to keep this question at the back of my mind as I left the collegiate world. Well, here is my answer.
1. Collaboration and public speaking are invaluable skills.
The biology department promoted collaboration and fostered opportunities for public speaking. And by promoted, I mean went completely out of their way to emphasize these skills. At times, I absolutely dreaded presenting a paper to peers or forced to work in groups on a task. Collaboration and public speaking are quite literally some of the most valuable work and life skills and are extremely difficult to practice outside of the actual situation. No matter how much you hate doing these (I'm with you, don't you worry), embrace every chance you can otherwise you may flounder in the moment. Society is based off of speaking to a variety of individuals as well as working with others (unless of course, you are a hermit and run your business solo...but 99.9% of us will have to interact with people). It's one of those where you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Every single profession uses it in some shape or form, plus you're way more appealing to employers. Even making friends and meeting people becomes easier. The list of benefits goes on and on.
It's a humbling experience. Most of the world's population will never receive higher education. Everyone has sacrifices to make in order to be here. For me, I was lucky to just have to forgo hopping on a flight home for holidays because it didn't make sense to spend such a large lump of money for three quick days. I was able to go home every winter break and spend an extended amount of time with my family. Your perspective changes a bit when you can't jump in the car and drive an hour to get home and instead take a two and a half hour flight.
I didn't have to work throughout college (I chose to). I had friends who had to take quarters off in order to work and pay for the upcoming quarter. I had friends who paid for college themselves (seriously, so amazing); I had friends who worked 40 hour weeks (also amazing); I had friends who lost loved ones in the middle of the quarter (tragic, tragic, tragic, but these folks were resilient). A lot of influences and experiences from my peers brought me down to Earth. Life is tough.
On a more positive note, we were surrounded by all of this knowledge. UW is one of the top research institutions in the world with new innovations emerging daily. Seminars would pop up on campus as well as discussions of today's issues. There was constant stimulation and exposure to the beauty of knowledge. And then there was us, the students, consuming this wealth of information, and taking it with us to try and produce something memorable, something good for this world.
3. Advocating for yourself.
You will be presented with too many situations where people will question your motives or who you are as an individual. People suck sometimes, or they're just negligent. It is your job to advocate and determine your worth. Sometimes that may mean speaking up when you desperately don't want to you, but you deserve it. This means seeking help when you need it, taking a moment to give yourself a break, and saying yes or no. You've gotta put yourself first.
I am capable of much more than I thought I was. I think that was the beauty of moving to a new state and not having the immediate access to my parents for help. Certain life skills like laundry came easily but others like meal prepping not so much.
But *yayyyy* you don't really have to tell anyone where you're going - you can sort of just do it. You're now on the front lines of decision making and calling the shots. Remember, every decision has a consequence, whether it be good or bad. Choose wisely.
Independence doesn't mean isolation either. You can TOTALLY (and should) ask for help and you should when you absolutely need it. You have to step out and try a few things out before you're ready to throw in the towel.
Independence isn't easy, but it's rewarding to know you did it on your own.
5. Support and showing up.
Growing up, I had my family's support and, to be candid, I had no idea how sheltered I was in this aspect of life. I was extremely lucky. We ate dinner together nearly every night, spent time together on the weekends, and helped each other when we needed it the most. I always had one family member at a soccer game or school function, in the crowd, there for me. THAT'S HUGE. Not every family is like that, not at all. I never experienced divorce until late high school and even then it was only with a long time family friend. Many of the friends I made throughout college come from broken families, whether they are estranged from a parent or aren't supported by the choices they choose to make.
While it's sometimes hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of not going out of your way to support someone, it's one of the things I value the most, especially if they show up for you. At that point, they are dedicating their time to you. If you know me well, you know how I feel on this matter. When you commit to meeting up or seeing someone, you rally no matter what.
Take note of the people who show up for you - they're important. Support of one another is sometimes all we have, and you're lucky if you've got someone you're able to rely on. Even if it's just a check in or asking how the special event went, it demonstrates they care deeply about you. For me, it was nice of friends and family to wish me good luck if they weren't able to make it. Keep the people who show up for you close, they matter more than you think. And do the same for them, they'll appreciate it.
6. Friendships and relationships
That's just the world. People move in and out of your life and it is your job to determine who you want to maintain a strong bond with and who you are willing to let go. Unfortunately, most people will float out - that's the sad reality. The really really really good ones will stick around, and if you're lucky for a lifetime.
If anything, this too makes the world go around. Saturation of anything will A. get old and boring B. destroy you slowly. Balance spills into every aspect of life from your physical health to mental health to the classes you take. You need a little work and a little play - not too much of either.
8. Do not, do not, do not, compare yourself to others
It's the easiest way to belittle yourself. I did this throughout my freshman and sophomore year and it completely consumed me, so much so that I had to go to counseling for the next year. When I changed how I measured personal success, my grades began to ascend and I was enjoying everything college truly had to offer.
Everyone is coming from a different place with their own unique experiences and goals. Our education system promotes bell curve esque landmarks to determine your worth and you have to move past those in order to succeed. That kid who always gets the top score may only study in their dorm room hours on end when in reality they're looking at you wishing they had as many friends as you. Focus on yourself and how you want to improve. You'll be much happier and reach your aspirations.
9. Hard work does pay off.
Personally, this was reaffirmed in college. I knew this going in because of the scholarships I had received #lifechanging. However, even if you don't think so, someone WILL notice your hard work. Go the extra mile when the chance presents itself, it will pay off big time in the end, whether you believe it or not. Honestly, just believe me and take my word for it.
10. Follow your passion
(What, that's like cliché #27??) This is a broad topic for sure. Usually, our minds go directly to choosing a major and a career and the constant battle of "mom and dad want me to become a doctor but I really want to be a painter, and I'll just suffer through these STEM classes or even do business because it's easy" mentality. Yeah, yeah, that for sure exists. On that note, everyone changes their major at least once. It's okay. I did (granted not a huge change, but it made a world of a difference) and it was one of the best decisions I made. Be sure you're doing it for yourself. You're the one taking the classes and either swimming or drowning.
Passion, though, encompasses A LOT. It's anything that piques your interest and gets you excited. I rediscovered my passion for art and creation and channeled it into a mechanism to deal with stress. I also realized I enjoy mentorship and gravitated towards opportunities where I could guide peers. College allowed me to be exposed to a plethora of ideas and things, and encouraged me to explore. I'm constantly searching for ways to foster my love for science and combine it with art - at the moment, it's sending me down the road of food and nutrition. Let's see where this goes!!
11. Time is a precious commodity.
If you've read any of my life posts, I think this is a recurring, underlying theme in a lot of posts. Time is the enemy. How many times have you asked yourself, where did time go?
Time gets shunted into this weird vortex where you have no concept of time throughout college. These four years FLEW by, yet in the moment, time dragged on. I've noticed how I've grown from year to year, and it's remarkable. Take note of everything around you and relish every moment the best you can. These will be fond memories one day, even the really bad days.
Spend it with the people you love. Spend it doing things you like to do it. Spend it wisely. Our lives are the culmination of how we spend our time.
12. Thank the people who helped you get to where you are.
Tell them over and over and over until they get annoyed. These people are the unsung heroes of your life and you sure as hell better appreciate them. Call them, send them a note, paint them a picture. Do whatever it takes!!!! There are so many people I need to thank, and some I am forever indebted to. Your family, friends, community members, and random strangers have all impacted your trajectory and the least you can do is say thanks. Show them some gratitude!
13. Accepting the fact I am human and am allowed to make mistakes.
Definitely took the longest, and I'm constantly grappling with the notion still. I screwed up all the time and viewed myself as a failure. Why didn't I study this or that, why didn't I study longer, why didn't I rush a sorority, why didn't I apply for that internship, why didn't I do this, WHY WHY WHY. You start to hate yourself. I've learned to accept that it happened and move on, trying again and again until I get it right. This isn't just an adolescent problem, it's a life problem. You get better with every mistake, so no need to dwell.
That's my answer. College was great. 10/10 will miss certain aspects, but I learned what I needed to. I am truly grateful for every obstacle, triumph, and experience; it's gotten me to where I am today.
So yeah, life's weird, stay funky, and enjoy college kiddos - you'll turn out okay.