Thursday, November 6, 2014

Always a Student

Learning to Think -- for Life

I'd like to take a step back from the purely writing-related topics to talk about something more general and personal. The college experience, as a whole, has been haunting me relentlessly in recent weeks. Most likely, this is because it's currently November of my senior year. Finals are closing in, grad school applications deadlines are approaching, and my amazing, all-too-short years as a college student are coming to an end.

All-too-short? It's funny I should say that. After all, I've been in the higher education world for almost six years now. I was an early starter at college, going part-time at a community college at sixteen, so by now I've been an undergrad for a little over half a decade. That's a sobering thought. I'm only barely under 22, which means I've spent almost a quarter of my life in the college setting. By now I should be sick of it, shouldn't I?

But I'm not. In fact, I'm mortified that it's ending. Particularly at Westfield State, my college years have been the happiest I've known. If I had all the money in the world, I'd go to school for life -- and that's not an exaggeration. But it's not because I'm in love with all-nighters (which suck) or parties (which I never go to) or the delayed immersion into the "real world" (which is scary, but not paralyzing) that I wish to prolong the experience. My attraction to the academic setting is due to -- dare I say it -- a love of learning. I'm a scholastic glutton. I adore the intellectual stimulation, intelligent discussions, and detailed investigations. And of course, in an English degree, such pursuits are entirely useless -- how will analyzing the nuanced metaphors in a Keats poem achieve anything for society? How, indeed, will much of the knowledge we acquire in college -- particularly outside our field of interest -- help us professionally down the road? (I mean, Botany 101? How will plants make me a better writer?) Why expend our energy in so many areas of learning?

I can't speak much for society. But as an individual, I know that the act of learning itself has made me a better person. It's taught me to be curious, to examine closely, to never passively accept an idea without first exploring it myself. And I will never regret taking such a diversity of courses -- especially the "useless" courses; in addition to producing a well-balanced brain, they have shown me how a person ought not to be narrow in their interests. They've taught me to appreciate how multifaceted our world is, how vast and unknowable even as we constantly strive to know it.

To put it in the simplest terms, learning has taught me to think. In such a practical society that praises production and great works of progress, it's difficult to imagine that contemplation, on its own, is so valuable to human experience. But life is so much more than what we make; it is also how we see, how we feel, how we react. Contemplation is what keeps us from being utilitarian robots and makes us human. For my part, I've always believed that to be "a better person" means to strive for the best in our human capacities -- emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical. Constant learning, then, betters the individual as our perception becomes deeper, wider, more balanced -- that is, as we make the most of our mental faculties.

Whatever the reason, learning is an art that I will cherish for life. I hope to never stop being curious. I hope never to stop exploring and asking questions. Most of all, I hope to never get so lost in the doings and happenings of daily life that I forget (God forbid) to think about it all.

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