We are almost at the end of the semester. Yes, I am excited, as I know many of you are. I’m not going to tell you how many years straight I’ve been at school, but let’s just say that if I hadn’t meandered around for a bit and gotten a handful of undergraduate degrees, I’d probably be working on defending my thesis for my doctorate degree by now. But in the process of getting those degrees, I’ve learned a few things that a sheet of paper can’t really represent.
Yes, this is going to be one of those sappy end-of-year lectures (and look, it’s even got two parts). Someone’s got to write them every year. I’m going to do it a little weirdly, though, because I’m going to tell you what I learned from university first. And then I’ll tell you how I learned them. So, here we go.
First, if you are learning something, anything, then you are not wasting time. Some of us go to school to be doctors and lab techs. Others come to be musicians and artists. Still others enter university with the intent to be doctors and lab techs and somehow end up playing senior recitals or hosting senior art exhibits, and vice versa. I went to school to be a registered nurse, and now I’m working as a technical writer. (Want to know how that happened? Well, guess what — that’s Part 2.)
But whether I was in a nursing class or an English class or even a generals class that made me want to facepalm repeatedly, I still learned something. Maybe it was how to be a better group member. Perhaps it was how to write an A-grade, 15-page paper in four hours. Or maybe it was how to accept that I actually had to work at some things to get a decent grade, and sometimes even my best work just wasn’t enough.
That last one was a tough one for me.
If you can take a lesson out of every experience, even if it isn’t in the course syllabus, then your experience isn’t a waste of time. I know that’s difficult to see if you’ve been going to school for years to get a degree you might never use, but honest, it’s true. I’m a better (not great, but better) employee, student and person because of those experiences. You will be, too.
Second, if you’re 25 with four degrees and you still don’t really, honestly know what you want to be when you grow up, then don’t give up on figuring it out. I’m not quite 25, but I’ll have four undergraduate degrees come semester’s end. I think I had like three majors declared at one time: nursing, theater and English. There was even a moment when I was set to combine them into a Bachelor of Integrated Studies degree. I would have made it work.
It took me many years to figure out that my career goals weren’t making me happy. It took a few more years to realize what new career goals would. And let me tell you, even though I’m not at my projected endpoint yet, I am still much better off emotionally and mentally than I was just a year or two ago. Some people know what they want to spend the rest of their lives doing from Day 1. The rest of us get there over time. And there is no right or wrong length of time to figure it out.
Third, if you’re unhappy with something in your life, then change it. Everyone makes that sound like it’s easy, and I know it’s not. Frankly, it’s freaking terrifying. Change isn’t going to happen overnight. If anything, you might be like me and take years. But you can either spend those years stuck in the same never-ending cycle of unhappiness, or you can spend them working through it toward something that might be better.
I say “might” because maybe it isn’t better. Maybe it’s worse. But once you get there, you’ve at least learned something on the way — that you can change your life. And if you’ve done it once, then you can do it again.
I hope that, whether you’re graduating in a few weeks or not, you’re learning something from your experience here at Weber State. Enjoy it all. Just don’t get stuck here forever.