I was not one of the kids Director of Admission Paul Steenis referenced at the Admitted Student Day banquet — I had not, on my way into Knox, published a graphic novel or started a nonprofit organization to benefit the people in my hometown. I was a reasonably good student, but this was due more to my fast writing skills and long attention span than to anything resembling motivation — I self-apply the title of “Master Procrastinator” when I discuss the four-years-ago version of me who chose Knox.
That has changed, thank god. If the trimester system is good for anything, it’s good for teaching work ethic. In four years, I can confidently say that Knox has restructured the way I view deadlines and projects. There’s an awesome example of personal development to reference in interviews. Go me!
But the personal development which has made me most different from that four-years-ago version of me who chose Knox didn’t come from classes with hard deadlines. In fact, only a small portion of it came from classes at all.
I’ll start with what did come from my academics, or at least to a degree: patience, from waiting in the wings and pushing through extra rehearsals and calming my nerves before stepping on stage to perform someone else’s dance; perseverance, from pushing through flus and injuries and late nights to make those shows happen alongside my jobs and homework. From the immersion present in the Dance Department especially, I have learned consistency, punctuality, even a new form of honesty — finally, finally I can say “no” to something that overwhelms or hurts me.
Now, the personal growth that Knox only caused by proximity: the dual-focus necessary to pay bills and do dishes and take care of pets while simultaneously being a student; the maturity to throw my hands up in the air at times and call my mother for help. The confidence, warranted or not, to walk home from a party by myself and only look over my shoulder once or twice. The confidence to sleep soundly in my off-campus apartment alone when my roommate is gone.
And here’s what’s weird, or at least what I find weird: I did not notice this growth. If asked to quantify it, I would be unable. Because these things were learned outside the classroom, outside any capstone or immersion term or abroad experience, they feel malleable, difficult to pin down.
They’re also almost impossible to talk about in a concrete way. And what I’m learning more and more is that these skills are what make up adulthood. Tumblr posts abound that growing up is mostly Googling your problems and then crossing your fingers you didn’t do anything illegal by accident, but it’s true. More than anything, I think that what I really learned during my time at Knox is how to wing it with confidence and style.
This is probably one of many reasons I will not be speaking at graduation.
But it’s also relieving. On Flunk Day, I chuckled at TKS’s list of things my liberal arts education did not teach me (hello, planning an event of any kind without the help of Travis Greenlee). I could add a few things myself, because nope, not always on point with winged eyeliner. Definitely no idea how insurance actually works. No idea about the stock market. I do a decent impression of someone who can cook, so there’s that.
Even still, I think the beauty of my liberal arts education is increasingly apparent in my day to day life. It’s in my decision-making abilities. It’s in the mental filter which is learning every day to consider more perspectives than my own. It’s in the way I feel reasonably equipped to Google my problems and cross my fingers. Still probably won’t make the list of people who accomplished staggering things before graduation, but hey, average is pretty f*cking thrilling right about now with so much on the horizon.
I have often perceived that the end of college will also mark the beginning of my journey as a grown up. A diploma is basically a ticket to the “Real World.”
(The “Real World” as though Knox was not. Thank god for homework, because at least it sometimes felt like school, even though I was getting clobbered by life lessons.)
But I think maybe we’ve already been experiencing reality, even within the Knox bubble. In so many ways I am unprepared for graduation. But in others, hand me that ticket and put me on the first train to Googling. I’m ready to wing it.