I’m in the throes of the most mundane decision masked as the biggest decision I’ll ever make. The emails in objection tell me they’d never let their daughters make the decision I’m tossing over in my mind, tell me I’m giving away the greatest opportunity I’ve ever been granted, that I’m not ready for what lies behind the isolated walls of liberal arts academia. The email in support, one in number, told me there were things one should gleam from academia, and that I had come to these things as much as I was going to in that setting. I am currently deciding whether or not to graduate this upcoming December, a semester early, or to complete a full four years at school before moving onto my ‘next life’.
My mother is currently visiting me Portland, and we’ve spent a great deal of time discussing and untangling the consequences and benefits of such a decision. But these conversations have not brought me closer to a decision about whether to graduate in May or December, but instead have brought one question to the forefront: What is it that one goes to college to learn, to do, to become?
The supportive professor made the following list: a deep relationship to studying and inquiry, to find one (or more) pathway toward the next stage of life, to know how to love (ideas, people), how to be grateful, how to pursue and be humble, and so on. It’s comprehensive in the facets of personhood it mentions, but short in number. As my previous articles have suggested, I have a complicated relationship with the institution of liberal arts schools, and university in general.
My three years of college were the scariest years of my girl-life. Not because I became a version of myself I didn’t recognize, not because booze-drenched nights & weed-saturated mornings became my norm, not because I lost who I was in a sea of homogeny. The three years were scary for what they taught me about being a woman: something so soft & animal. I saw alcohol fill & become the bodies of my friends, their livers fatty & failing at age twenty-two. I saw the person I love become child & shrinking after a bathroom invasion. I saw the aftermath of rape & assault in over half my friends, the way their shoulders bent in a permanent hunch of hiding the self, the heavy way their hand grips & callouses around the pepper spray bottle. I saw friends turn their hair into a nest of asymmetry & rainbow. I saw Facebook and twitter monopolize the dinner table conversation along with talk of last night’s hook up, and the ass (or rack) on the new girl down the hall. I saw herpes rash & redden the hidden mouths of friends, explained with a shrug: std’s always a risk worth taking if it means not having to ask the awkward questions of ‘when were you last tested’. My three years of college were terrifying for my body, for the always possibility of invasion & disease, for the never enough sleep, for the mysterious dining hall meat & the speed at which the stomach bug or flu travels the campus once yearly.
I’m too ‘in’ college to be able to appreciate the wealth of knowledge and skills I’ve learned on the two separate college campuses I’ve attended. It’s not that I lack a self-awareness on what I have gained from my past three-year experiences, it’s that I’m worried school is the only place I’ll succeed. And I have succeeded here: I’ve learned how to avoid all-nighters, which substance-free events are the most fun, to check my email every time I go to the bathroom, to shut the volume off on my phone in class, to keep a daily planner. I’ve learned what it takes to get A’s consistently. What I haven’t learned: what am I good at outside of the classroom? What can I do and where can I take: my retrospective interest in the AIDs epidemic, my awareness of the patriarchy and what it means to be queer, my weekly poetry writing. Who is a scholar after the scholar leaves academia? It’s a question I want to learn the answer to sooner rather than later.
The chance to go out into my next life and figure it out is the objective; what difference does four months make? By the way friends of my parents talk about the possibility, one would think I am dropping out of school, choosing not to get a degree. This is not what I am doing. Instead, I will be graduating with a diploma from the same institution; but three weeks early.
I’m sure it is clear as day in the way this article is written: I want to graduate in December, but I don’t know how to justify this decision.
So many times we know what we want, we know what our instinct is telling us, we know what we believe to be the right decision for ourselves, but we have a hard time pushing the button, have a hard time sticking to that. We live in a world where everyone expects an exclamation for our personal decision. Know: we owe an explanation to nobody but ourselves. And trusting our instinct is as good an explanation as any. We are so used to looking for, expecting, and getting positive affirmation on our decisions and making our choices as a result of that. Don’t let others blow your own choices out of proportions. Sometimes there is not a right or wrong decision, sometimes there is just two different decisions with two different outcomes. But both can be good decisions as long as we trust ourselves in the decision that we make.
Of course there are questions we need to ask ourselves to help us make the choice that feels best to us; but sometimes asking the question is more important than finding an answer. In asking myself what I want to become through college I am able to first reflect on what my goals were for myself before entering college, and what they have become.
These types of decisions are hard. But we must learn to trust ourselves over all else. We must learn to listen to our gut instinct.