Growing up through the 1990s and 2000s, I had a front-row seat to witness the rise of the college generation, though I did not realize it at the time. As years passed, college became more of an expectation and less of a choice.
The reason this expectation exists is too often attributed to perfectionist ideologies, or parents with unrealistic standards. I am far too lazy to be a perfectionist, and while my parents always stressed the importance of knowledge and education, they also realized that the “better life” they desired for their son simply depended on me finding happiness and passion in my life.
Mind you, they were still ecstatic and proud when college acceptance letters began to fill the mailbox. They saw their son’s hard work being honored with the opportunity to further his education.
While I was also excited, I had long since come to the realization that going to college is the only route to a better life. I wanted that better life; I craved it. How could I not? Whenever I would ask, “Why are we learning this?” the answer was always the same, “It’s on the exam.” Fail the exam, and you don’t graduate. And if you don’t graduate, you don’t go to college. And if you don’t go to college, you won’t have a job. No job, no future. This “college or nothing” mentality, in my opinion, restricts some of the most creative individuals from discovering their full potential.
“If you want a good job, you have to go to college. And you have to know how to do this; they won’t hold your hand.” Those words still haunt me. I must have heard them hundreds of times from kindergarten through high school. Fear has become the tool to drive students to succeed. Fear of not being smart enough, fear of making mistakes, fear that all future success or failure resides in the score of an exam and a piece of paper labeled as either “accepted” or “denied.”
Now, it would be disingenuous of me not to acknowledge the irony of my own academic endeavors. I did, in fact, graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Canisius College. I’m still at Canisius, pursuing my master’s, and I’m very happy with my studies. College was not an easy endeavor. I spent many sleepless nights toiling over notes, data and thesis papers. Looking back, some of my fondest memories are of late nights with the floor covered in class notes.
Even after all the projects, lectures and exams, the most valuable information I have learned over the past six years did not occur in the classroom, but rather, what I took from the classroom.
For me, college opened up a wider range of knowledge and intellect. Ethics, justice, philosophy and abstract thinking, just to name a few. When I took these classes, I would ask my professors, “Why are we learning this?” and for the first time in my life, the answer was not, “Because it’s on the exam.” Instead, I was given a different answer: “Because you’re honing your passion and pursuing knowledge.”
And that is what college taught me. Your passion and your happiness are indispensable. It should not be the decision of others to force “expectations” upon you. You are responsible for discovering what makes you happy, and you are responsible for finding your passion and learning everything about it. If your passion does not require a degree, so what? A degree does not equal happiness.
You are not simply an exam score or a grade point average. You are an individual with the ability to make your own success, learn from your mistakes and accept your failures with grace and honesty. It’s your future; how would you like to spend it?