Despite the common misnomer, college is probably not the best four (or perhaps five, six, or even eleven) years of your life. If your ability to learn, develop, think and process declines automatically after an emblazoned diploma is hung in a glass case, then the reason for college has not been fully identified nor tapped into. Often, parents pack away possessions of their child and remnants of a childhood into Rubbermaid totes and unpack them into an entirely different world. Eighteen year olds are transplanted into an environment that is seemingly centered on success and class schedules.
The new environment of college is one of many springboards to dive deeper into the process of critical thinking, human communication and a process of questioning and determining the truths of life. However, the college experience is not significant because of classrooms, lectures, paper assignments or group projects. The experience of college is momentous because it is an environment in which the human experience thrives through a process of questioning, failing and succeeding.
The human condition is experienced in the context of emotions, communication and shared experiences. Human beings are collectively part of a beautifully unique species of creatures. The separation factor between human beings and any other living being that roams the earth is that humans desire to know the answer to one question: “Why?” A broad range of contexts for that question exist, but the environment that a higher education presents is one that fosters the questioning and answering process. The college experience offers its participants an invitation to dig deeper into the meaning of particles, phonemes, the interaction of the neurons of the mind and perhaps the meaning of one’s own place on the earth.
College offers a chance to question normalcy and look for new ways to accomplish tasks. Yet, too often, this proposal is squandered and squelched by an emphasis on perfectionism. The perfect GPAs are awarded scholarships, the top athletes are lauded as heroes of the colleges and universities that they attend. All the while, the most important lesson that college offers in the human journey is overlooked and often hidden under the rug of worldly success. The superlative lesson college offers is the mistakes. The experience of staying up too late after a night out because a paper is due that reminds college students of their time management faults. The fingernails bitten down to the quick that serve as a road map to the times when the gravity of decisions hit a student like a hammer to his or her chest. The pile of coffee cups, stained with lipstick, that litter the hallway trashcan because, once again, there were not enough hours in the day.
Or perhaps the ever-truthful computer history, besieged with trains of lost thought and distraction that stole away the attention of a student. These are the lessons that college leaves in its trail, the should-haves and could-haves that keep college students up at night and awake during classes. The extra push that those mistakes fuel, lighting the fire of perseverance past limits and previous expectations of success from others and oneself.
The university experience is a chance for some to boldly go where no one has gone before: inside oneself. College serves as a map, offering a chance to explore the definition of the human condition and to fall deeper in love with the pursuit of knowledge and answers to the constantly present questions that stack up alongside life experiences. The practices fashioned by a university education cannot be summed up in the transcript that prints at the desk of a future employer, or the countless social media pictures that will serve as a reminder of the experiences during those short years. College is significant because it offers an opportunity – and the impact that the opportunity creates is left completely up to the human individual who is given the gift.