I have a degree now!
That’s a weird feeling, and it changes you as a person. I don’t want to say it makes you feel superior, but it does make you feel kind of special.
“I have a degree!” you can now say
I got my Bachelor of Arts in politics, with a minor in gender, sexuality, and feminist studies. I don’t really know what this means, but I think I’m now at least qualified to shut down minor quibbles on Facebook.
“That’s not fake news - that’s the truth! I HAVE A DEGREE!”
Someone tries to cut you off in traffic
“Hey, you can’t do that to me! I have a degree!”
You work hard for four years, you walk across that stage, they hand you an envelope. When you take your degree out, you pause for a second.
Funnily enough, my college degree is smaller than my high school diploma. Everything’s bigger in Texas, I guess.
People will tell you that college is the best time of your life. Maybe that’s true for some people, but I’m not sure if it’s true for me. That’s not a bad thing - that’s reality. There is no guarantee in life that a solid four-year chunk of time will inherently be better than anything you will ever experience. But you don’t want college to be the best years of your life. You’re only twenty-two - what else would you have to look forward to? College is a crucible. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. This might sound like I’m putting down my Oberlin experience, but I want to dispel the myth that college is a “sleep all day, party all night” 24/7 fun fest. Oberlin is hard! You’re plopped down in a middle of a cornfield, given a handful of restaurants, two coffee shops, crappy weather, and all the reading you could ever wish to do. And as much as I complain about the heavy Oberlin workload, the kind of academic freedom we have here is something I already miss intensely. I learned an incredible amount during my time here, sometimes as much from students as I did from professors. A liberal arts degree doesn’t prepare you for any one thing specifically; it gives you the tools to tackle a variety of challenges. It gives you critical thinking skills, which is a vague, nebulous concept that colleges across the country claim to offer, so what the heck is it? It’s basically the ability to not take something at face value. To check out the sources people are pulling from. To understand that things in this world are rarely black and white, but rather, the shades in between. Critical thinking is understanding the difference between fake news and “fake news.”
At the end of the day, college was not the best years of my life, but it showed me the best version of myself.
I am more confident and independent than when I started. I have thought more in depth about issues that I didn’t really examine before. I have challenged preconceived notions that I had. I have strived to be a more compassionate person. This is not to say that I have affirmatively arrived at NEW AND IMPROVED EMMA 2.0 but I have certainly grown as a person over these past four years, despite the fact that my mom hates that phrase ("I hate when people say they've grown as a person. As opposed to what? A hedgehog? A tree? A platypus?!").
What’s next for me? I’m still figuring that out, and I probably will be for a while. For now, I’m at home in Houston. Eventually I'll make the obligatory move to New York. I just finished up an Iberian adventure with my parents - Barcelona, La Rioja, San Sebastian, Madrid, and Lisbon. Then I journeyed to Stockholm and Copenhagen by myself for a week, before spending a month in Paris, taking a French class at SciencesPo. SciencesPo is a school with a big international focus, so there are all kinds of students on the program, from so many different countries. It was really cool to be able to talk with people from all over the world, to learn about where they’re from and what kind of perspective they have. I met a lot of people who are from other countries but they study in the United States. Which at first I thought was kind of weird - who the heck is trying to rack up oodles of debt, especially in this political climate? But in talking with them, I’ve realized just how rare my Oberlin experience was.
I hate saying that word.
I’m not ready to refer to my Oberlin education as a past event.
But I have no other choice.
Everyone studying in the United States told me that they chose to leave their homes because of the kind of education you can get here. In most countries, you have to choose exactly what you want to study before you even arrive. You don’t choose the school for the atmosphere, you might be placed there, or it might be the closest to home. Then at school, you don’t necessarily have the ability to explore, to take classes that might not have anything to do with your major. Being able to study a bunch of different things purely for the sake of learning is kind of a uniquely American thing, and it’s something that Oberlin especially excels at. Plus, a lot of people I’ve talked to knew about us, exclaiming “Oh I’ve heard that’s a really cool school.” It is! It WAS!
It’s taken me weeks (ok, months?) to try to compose this final entry. There’s an internal pressure for this to be my magnum opus, where I neatly wrap up my Oberlin experience with a bow, where I recount what I learned during my four years here. One last hurrah. One last word of wisdom. And I can’t do that.
If Oberlin taught me anything, it’s that life is inherently messy, and sometimes, there is no answer.
In terms of my work at Oberlin, this is it for me. This is the last thing I will have provided to this school with my name on it.
And I’m scared and excited and happy and sad and full of regrets and ready to move on.
I am everything and none of these at the same time.
I know this isn’t the last time that my writing will be read by the general public. But it still stings. My blogging career here was one of the most rewarding parts of my Oberlin experience. I had a platform to share my thoughts and feelings. I had a built-in audience. I had so many people respond to my work in a positive way.
In his commencement speech to us, David Sedaris gave us 5 distinct pieces of advice. One of which - write thank you notes.
Consider this my thank you note to the Oberlin community at large. I am so grateful for everything I learned here and for all the support I received.
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April 7, 2022