‘Never let school interfere with your education’

Harrison Leonard

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Courtesy of MCT

I wish I could say I coined the phrase in that title. Actually, it was Mark Twain who penned it nearly one century ago. How relevant those words remain still today!

Assuming I pass my classes this semester, I will be finished with my undergraduate work one week from today. I will receive my diploma shortly thereafter, and will participate in graduation ceremonies next spring.

This is a moment all students await in earnest and, for those who have not yet reached this point, I can safely report it feels as awesome as you’d expect.

College has been a challenging experience for me. I was gifted with an analytical mind and superior writing skills, and those strengths have served me well over the past few years. I don’t know where I’d be without them.

Still, I have struggled mightily throughout college to combat bouts of laziness, procrastination and disinterest. As I sit back and reflect on my time as a college student, there are some things I wish I had done differently, and others I wish I had learned sooner.

For those still plowing through their college career, here are a few pointers I would have liked to know going into college.

Be strategic about how you give up. To say “never give up” would be cliché, vague and stupid. I’m sure each one of us can recall a time or two when, a couple weeks into the semester, it became painfully obvious that enrolling in such and such a class was a horrible idea.

If a class isn’t working for you, and you have the flexibility to make a move, do it. Your happiness and sanity are more important than the stubborn pride of having to finish everything you start.

If college has taught me one thing, it’s that there are far more important things in life than school. Don’t get me wrong: doing well in college is an important achievement in today’s society. But I have found that some of my more difficult classes have not been worth the effort.

Challenging classes can be rewarding, but sometimes they’re not. You can usually tell the difference early on. Easier classes are sometimes less interesting, but the peace of mind is worth it. Don’t be ashamed to chase that feeling.

To take it one step further, I’m going to make a statement that will have every academic adviser on campus reeling: I wish I had taken fewer classes I expected to like.

I can’t tell you how many times I have registered for a class, excited and intrigued by its title or description, only to be terrified of the professor and their unreasonable expectations (which can often be worse than a daunting workload).

If you’re going to bail on a class, just make sure to drop before the deadline. I’m sure there are more than a few people who, like me, have either given up halfway through a semester, or missed the drop deadline and decided to screw it anyway. My GPA is suffering the consequences now.

Stand up to your professors. Challenge them. Question authority. Like you, your professors are not infallible. They are capable of making mistakes. The claims they make during lectures are not always accurate, and their arguments don’t always stand up to scrutiny.

I don’t mean to belittle the devotion most of our professors bring to their work. We ought to admire the graduate degrees they earned to be able to educate us.

But that doesn’t make them unquestionably right. Like everyone, professors allow their own backgrounds, worldviews, and personal biases to color their perspectives on the topics they relay to you. I’ve done it almost every week for a year, in this column. You do it, too. Why would you expect any different from your teachers?

Don’t be afraid to treat what you are taught with skepticism (even those things you are inclined to believe are true), and don’t sit back and take it if your professors bully you for your beliefs. If they do, that’s why we have department chairs.

Understand the difference between intelligence and wisdom. Academic knowledge can be attained by most anyone. Wisdom is harder to come by. Your professors have a lot of the former; that doesn’t mean they possess much of the latter. Keep in mind that most of them started kindergarten and have never left the classroom. Life experience matters, too. Your grandparents’ take on life should matter just as much to you as your teacher’s.

Don’t let school interfere with your education. College is important. Education is more important. Don’t fool yourself into believing the two are inseparable.

It is not an exaggeration on my part to suggest that the best and most rewarding learning I’ve done during the last four years have come from my own personal studies, not from lectures or textbooks.

The Internet has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for the intellectually curious; provided you can discern what’s credible online, and what isn’t, there is literally no shortage to what you can discover and accomplish.

Do your best in school. Don’t let it run your life. There is so much you can learn in spite of it.

On a personal note…

This is my last column as a member of the Sundial staff. For the past year, I have been privileged to write a weekly installment in my column “Common Sense” for this newspaper. Twenty two columns and over 200 online comments later, I am humbled by this opportunity.

As I continue to develop politically, I occasionally find myself disagreeing with positions I had previously held, some of which are crystallized in the pieces I’ve written. Poor word choices and careless arguments litter a number of them. In that sense, my record is far from perfect.

Even with its many faults, I stand behind my body of work. I still think there are some real gems to be found among those articles, while others have turned into lessons in the value of clear communication; the comments sections beneath each piece are evidence of that.

I would like to thank the Sundial editing staff, especially Aaron Helmbrecht and William Herbe, for putting up with me this long. Most of all, thanks to my readers. I have grown, as a writer and a person, because of this opportunity. You are the biggest reason why.

Thanks for listening.

Harrison Leonard