What Did I Really Learn From College?


My college journey began at the age of 18 and concluded at 26. As I reflect on those formative years, it's impossible to ignore the stark differences between the child who timidly walked in with little male guidance and the young man that crossed the finish line at his virtual graduation. Each year presented its own unique obstacle that I was to voyage and learn from. Early on, I didn't know the college experience was more than learning how to balance chemical equations and master titrations in chem lab while juggling the memorization of fossas and fissures of the human body. It took years (seven to be exact) to realize the real "exams" are administered outside of the classroom when you apply the knowledge obtained from everyday situations and practice them in practical life scenarios you may or may not have yet faced. For example, my first three years of undergrad consisted of constant academic readjustments. I lost count of the times I was told something along the lines of "those credits will no longer count toward your program as we told you initially" or "sorry, but you'll have to stay an additional semester if you don't attend summer school." I picked up on the pattern, and it wasn't unusual when I heard similar things from my thesis committee and, later, my employer. Fast forward a bit, and I can say I passed those exams.

In college, you're presented with endless opportunities to meet people from different walks of life, explore new interests, and recreate what you want life to look like independent of the universe you've experienced as a child. I didn't enter college with much life experience, which can be credited to my austere upbringing. I used to grapple with the mixed emotions that accompanied the memories until I recognized my childhood contributes largely to my story. Fortunately, I managed to maintain satisfactory composure in my new environment that offered me freedoms my young brain couldn't even imagine at the time. I became more tactful with time. Unknowingly, I began developing amateur life skills while taking a stab at understanding the art of navigating through the modern-day labyrinth we've all traversed - the balancing act of social life and work-life and academics. It's a constant tug of war for many, and few make it out without a story to tell of a mental breakdown or an unintentionally acquired lousy behavior as a result.

I've met some incredible people who have contributed significantly to the person I am today during my college years. Some relationships were temporary and short-lived, while others withstood and are still standing the course of time. To date, I'm still learning and uncovering why, but I tend to try and hold on to relationships longer than needed. Depending on the individual, one could deem such behavior as a strength or a weakness. Nonetheless, I've discovered while people are placed in our lives for reasons, not everyone is placed there with the intent to remain forever. And that is okay. Experience has taught me the importance of being present in every moment. A wise man once said, "life is a series of moments, and moments pass, so let's make this moment last as if it is all that we have." I now follow that principle, and reflect on positive and negative memories and appreciate them for what they are/were.

So, what did I really learn from college? The grades I made in chemistry and biology don't matter one bit (obviously). I learned that college is like a social bubble with the potential to distort reality for some. There is a sense of unpreparedness you can experience upon completion. Once you graduate, you have to readjust and figure things out in your newly acquired societal role. Freshman orientation all over again, except this time for the real world. This is where you realize some of the ideas, things, and people you thought mattered don't necessarily carry the same weight they once did. The good news is, you're not alone, and it comes easier over time. It doesn't have to come to you right away; take your time, and appreciate the quest. Be gentle with yourself and keep learning as you go.