What I REALLY Learned in College
On the eve of my graduation I was faced with the question, “what did you learn during college?” I jokingly answered that I didn’t learn anything, but I quickly made a mental note to revisit the question. As I sit here a week later I wonder, what did I learn during the past four years?
Technically speaking, I learned a lot of things: Marshall McLuhan’s theories, how to write a legal case brief, the works of Kant and Durkheim, video production, and so much more. But college taught me about a lot more than just academics, it was the lessons outside of the classroom that left a lasting impression on me.
In high school, I fantasized about college. I would meet a group of lifelong friends, find a college sweetheart, get a 4.0, and then sum it up by snagging my dream job. Let’s just say things didn’t quite end up that way. My romanticization of what my college experience should have been like is ultimately what got me into trouble. But I also learned lifelong lessons that I will carry with me into my journey into “the real world”.
For the first time in my life I was truly on my own and out of my comfort zone. I traded the busy, diverse streets of Philadelphia for a PWI in the middle of nowhere. I had to learn how to adjust to being stuck in one place and finding contentment with my surroundings. I had to learn how to deal with racial microaggressions from my peers, and even professors. I never felt like an outsider due to my race until I was the only Black face in the room. For the first time in my life, I had to deal with being called “ghetto” or “aggressive” for speaking my mind. These microaggressions inspired me to raise my voice even louder. It was a White campus that taught me to be loud and proud of my Blackness.
Attending a PWI taught me that diversity is more than just Black and White. During college I learned how to Bachata, learned about Japanese customs, and celebrated Diwali: things I never would have been exposed to at home. These lessons went beyond the borders of my campus, even beyond the borders of the country. Studying abroad in South Africa was one of the most influential experiences of my life. I learned about gratitude, spirituality, identity, and activism. But more importantly, it taught me a lot about myself. My issues with myself also contributed to a lot of growth during college.
Mental health was one of my biggest struggles in college, and it took me three years to figure it out. One semester I got so stressed that I lost 15 pounds in two weeks. The funny thing is, I can’t even remember what exactly I was stressed about. My heart would race so much that it could have qualified for the Olympic track team. I would cry after getting a B on an assignment because it wasn’t good enough, which meant I wasn’t enough. Even though I seemed fine on the outside, I really struggled internally. Every semester I found myself over-involved with extracurriculars and obsessing over grades. Being involved wasn’t enough, I had to be in a position of leadership. Throwing a chronic illness and constant flare ups on top of that, I was going to lose my mind.
It didn’t help that my small campus had a very toxic competitive nature to it. “Oh, you’re only in two organizations? Lisa is the president of five organizations, and she's on Dean's List.” Phrases like this were constantly thrown around, and even if they weren’t said, we were all thinking it. At bigger schools, drugs and alcohol were the biggest danger to students, at mine it was competition. It wasn’t until I suffered from a mental breakdown that I was forced into something I never thought I would do: therapy. My therapist helped me learn that my GPA and my extracurriculars were not a reflection of my value. Not hearing “cum laude” after my name wouldn’t be the end of the world, and I deserved a good night’s sleep every now and then. All-nighters are considered to be part of the “typical” college experience, but one landed me in the Emergency Room. Our bodies need sleep to recharge, no assignment is worth depriving yourself of that, learn from my mistakes. While “Lisa” may seem like she has everything together, it’s possible that she does not. Comparison is truly the thief of joy, no one is perfect.
It is important to remember that everyone in college is experiencing their own individual metamorphosis. Throughout the four years we spend on campus, we change. Casual hookups and even serious relationships don’t always work out. Even our platonic relationships change as we all struggle to discover our true selves. Fortunately, I was able to meet individuals who I created lifelong bonds with, but not without a lot of trial and error. I quickly learned that quality over quantity is an important aspect when it comes to friendship. I’d take my small support system over popularity any day. I left high school thinking that I left petty drama behind me, it’s called high school drama for a reason, right? WRONG. From fake friends to unfaithful lovers, college was a rollercoaster ride. Thankfully, the drama helped me weed out some rotten apples. I learned valuable lessons that helped me strengthen my relationships and stressed the importance of reciprocity.
My experiences also helped me find my passions. As you can tell by this long post, I love creating content. From writing to video production, it’s my favorite way to express myself. While classrooms taught me the tools, my experiences taught me how to draw inspiration out of life and turn it into something beautiful. Hopefully the thousand-dollar debt will be worthwhile (I’m talking to you Sallie Mae), and I can make a living doing what I love.
For the first couple of days after graduation, I slept. Exhausted from the past four years and all I learned from it. But as I write this, I feel refreshed and ready for the next chapter of my life. College helped me learn my limits and establish necessary boundaries. I learned to always speak my mind and fight for what's right. It taught me that I am ENOUGH and to take pride in who I am. I'm great and anyone who thinks otherwise can see their way out.