Graduating from university was something I doubted I would do. If I’m being completely honest with myself, there was a large portion of my life when I didn’t think I would even go to university, and during my time there a seemingly larger portion where I didn’t think I would finish. I wasn’t the best student, and I was more interested in things like sleeping with people and learning than doing well in my classes. I went through periods where I would blow off my more traditional academic responsibilities to do things like write. I would sit there, sure, but I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t do especially well in more traditionally structured classes. I did mediocre with regular assignments and multiple choice tests. In all honesty, that’s probably why I gave up on science.
You see, I wanted to be a scientist. I wanted so hard to be a scientist. I wanted to explore and investigate and create things. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to muddle through the classes. I liked the lectures. I liked the discussions. I liked hearing about the “cutting edge” of biology research. I didn’t care about the exact order of steps in the Krebs Cycle. I couldn’t care less about how many carbon atoms are in a carbohydrate molecule or how to differentiate one from a protein.
The thing is, I was interested in what people could do with ideas rather than the ideas themselves.
At some point, I embraced the fact I was never going to be an engineer. I was never going to be a scientist. I took classes I did well in. I studied things I could read about and then talk about. I took classes where I could sit down for three hours and write a paper that would get me a B with minimal effort. I did all the things they tell you not to do. Luckily for me, my school was wonderful enough to give me an opportunity to study something that I, I learned, utterly loved and found totally interesting where I could still get Bs with minimal effort. But, I still didn’t do what I needed to to succeed.
I didn’t work hard.
I mean, I worked hard, but I didn’t work hard on the right things. Rather than focusing on my studies, I helped organize a conference. I worked. I was in clubs. The orchestra. I went swimming. I played games.
When I was in high school, my father asked me what I cared about. I rattled off some things, things I intellectually cared about. But, none of them were things I actually did with my time. Back then, I walked, read, wrote, and cooked. I played music with people. I played games and watched movies and talked about them. Some part of me thought that when you were young you did these things and at some point, you got older, and then you focused. They you started doing the things you thought were important. I mean, after all, at fifteen how could anyone “be a doctor” or “be an engineer” or “be a lawyer”?
But, since then, I’ve met the people who did these things. They were the people who, as kids, volunteered at hospitals, who built things, who read the newspaper and legal cases and followed what was happening. Kids who did mock trial and were volunteer firefighters. Kids who wrote for the school paper.
I used the excuse that I was home schooled for not having done things I said I wanted to do, but the fact is, the honest truth, is that I never really liked doing them. I liked the things they meant, I admired the things they were, but I wasn’t the kind of person able to do them.
In spite of everything else going on, no matter how much I denied it, even back then, I couldn’t admit it to myself, but I knew: I really just wanted to write.
My parents knew this, even though I didn’t, and suggested that perhaps traditional education wasn’t for me. They suggested this in the wake of a particularly bad semester–where I barely passed biology for the third time, almost failed Japanese, and actually failed a maths class I was perfectly capable of doing all the problems for but for some reason never did quite successfully. So rarely did they tell me what to do, that I hated it, resented it, when they–or anyone–did. But, I listened. I had to.
I took time off.
This was a struggle and a fight. Taking time off meant giving up and I hated to give up. I bit back against this and hated my parents, resented them. We stopped talking to one another and at the first opportunity I went back to school.
I wish I could say I came back reformed. That I did better and worked hard, but instead I declared a humanities major. History and Philosophy of Science is actually best compared to a person you meet and sort of like well enough. You find them generally attractive and easy enough to get along with. Then, one day you’re in love. They didn’t do anything special, but suddenly you realize how everything about them is perfect for you.
I threw myself into HPS and I loved it dearly, but I never loved it quite enough. It never drove me to push myself.
I was lucky, that’s the short of it. I graduated because I was lucky. The HPS classes were supplemented with anthropology, Asian culture, and writing classes I collected enough As in, picking up flowers off the ground rather than reaching, that I somehow found myself holding a 3.0 with the last of my final projects. By sheer stubbornness, I graduated. I just refused to give up not because I thought it was the right thing to do, but because other people wanted me to.
I walked with my friends and my parents beamed. My professors said nice things about me. Somehow, I didn’t feel like I really accomplished anything. I understand, conceptually, that my degree is proof that I did something, was able to do something, that about one-third of Americans have done. However, I feel much more accomplished when I pedal up a large hill than I did when, seven years after I first stepped into a college classroom, I graduated. It might have just been the moment–years of work is slow and hard to see while a hill is there and then you’re done with it.
However, getting a degree was a lot like biking up hill. It’s just one small part of what’s going on. There were things that happened after it that couldn’t have happened otherwise. I’ve had jobs that I wouldn’t have, experiences I wouldn’t have.
I would never say I regret a decision on my academic career because somehow it led me here. It led me to the people I care about the most. It led me to employment. It led me to looking out my window at the Charles, with a belly full of a lunch I shared with friends from out of town–all of whom I met because I graduated from university.