For the last six years, I have done anything but put my college degree to good use, or any use. Since graduating with a bachelor’s in writing from a small liberal arts school in upstate New York and before enrolling as a graduate student in the creative writing program at San Diego State, I have been a cabana boy, a life insurance salesman, taught English in China, worked construction in the Hamptons, delivered pizzas, taught middle and high school on Baltimore’s west side, coached rowing at my high school alma mater and taught English in Japan. All these jobs required (except of course for my current challenging, fruitful and incredibly well-paid job as a RWS 200 teacher) were a pulse, a working knowledge of the English language and no facial tattoos.
Nobody cared where I went to school. Other than when I applied for graduate school, my grades were never asked. Nobody cared about all the work I didn’t do in college. Praise (insert deity), I’ve never once been asked to perform a mathematical equation beyond a fourth-grade level. Trivia night at bars is the only time I showcase my minimal science expertise. And while I have read “The Republic,” I hear Plato and still think of the malleable substance I played with in kindergarten and found oddly palatable when paired with a woodsy Welch’s red.
My point is this: Your last four years at an institution of higher learning mean nothing, insofar as your classroom experience. The labs, the lectures, your atrociously monotonous and pedantic PowerPoint presentations, your pathetic grasp of a second language, your 8 a.m. classes and midterms and finals were all for naught (except your RWS classes, which no doubt have molded you into a deft writer, capable of writing across all genres and positioned you to become, at the very least, a serious blogger with a whole five followers). None of these things matter. You will not remember any of them. The space they occupy in your brain will soon be replaced with far more exciting things such as bills, taxes and alimony. The knowledge you once voraciously consumed between large-scale beer pong tournaments will be quickly hijacked by your adult responsibilities.
What does matter is your work. What did you do here? That wasn’t a rhetorical question. All of the accomplished people in history made their name by the time they were your age. They had contributed. I’m not saying you need to have reinvented the wheel in your time as an Aztec, but if you didn’t create something, if you didn’t participate in the university beyond being part of “The Show” at basketball games, what was the point in you being here? Because the only thing people are going to care about is your body of work, what you have created that is the best representation of your capabilities to date.
This is what you give to the world. I am not strictly speaking of prospective employers, although of course they are the most important to impress should you want to make that great leap forward and move out of your parents’ house and learn to fold your own laundry.
If you were lucky enough to have your parents pay for your education, how are you thanking them? Imagine you paid for someone else to go to college in today’s economy. Wouldn’t you want that person to show you something, to demonstrate something beyond how to move a tassel from one side of a ridiculous hat to another? My profound aversion to becoming a father is widely known and well documented, but should the cursed day ever arrive when I am forced to send my brat to Harvard (because my kid will be a writing savant and champion rower, naturally), he damn well better show me something more than a piece of paper in Old English font.
To return to my extensive catalogue of relatively obscure professions, none of them were concerned about what work I did as a student. They simply wanted a position filled. This wasn’t something I immediately picked up on. It took me a while to realize I was a cog. So herein lies my advice, the advice of a platinum member of the proletariat: If you want a rewarding career and life, make sure the people you want to work with care about what you did. If all they want is you to fill out a form, chances are they aren’t too concerned with how you’ve used your education to create something and to better yourself. If they demonstrate a genuine interest in you as a person, what you know and how you plan on sharing that knowledge, sign on the dotted line and put on some shades, because your future is looking bright. (Wink.)
And while your work is important, it’s equally important to remember the things you learned about yourself as a student and as a person. Remember when you first heard “‘Round About Midnight” and discovered jazz. Remember when you read something by Alan Moore and discovered graphic novels. Remember when you forewent Two-Buck-Chuck, spent the extra cash on decent wine and fumbled through rudimentary salsa steps. Hopefully, this time of self-discovery has inspired a love of learning, not necessarily about recombinant DNA, but about being active and engaged in the world around you.
You will find a job, and you will work. (Don’t worry, interdisciplinary studies and arts majors — there are jobs out there for you, too. My grocery bags need filling.) You will become a drone. That’s pretty much guaranteed straight out of college. But time will pass, new friends will be made, new places explored, and suddenly you’ll realize what you should have been doing for the last few years. Then you’ll start your career, and you will balance it with a rich, rewarding life that challenges and inspires you.
Or you’ll become an alcoholic.
-Matt Doran is a creative writing graduate student whose storied past helps him write stories. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org to compliment him on his enviable resume.
-This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.
-Listen to or download an audio transcript of this column at thedailyaztec.com.