As I sit here with the hopes of putting forth a thought-provoking article, I can’t help musing about what the average college student is doing with his or her time. Unfortunately, there are common misconceptions about the purpose of college that have effectively shaped how students see their college experience. Many see college as a segmented, unrelated chain of experiences rather than a process of lessons embodying holistic formation. It is hard for an 18–year–old to put things in perspective when there are so many distractions, and that is why it’s easy to justify poor choices. But the sooner a person becomes conscious that everything they do affects their trajectory, the more intentional they will become.
The liberal arts education attempts to foster this conscious consideration by introducing students to a multiplicity of academic disciplines, including languages, literature, philosophy, psychology and more. The collection of classes a student is required to take elicits critical thinking and consequently can assist them in solving the riddles of tomorrow. College is a time of inquiry and discovery — a quest to understand how to overcome persistent challenges that test most young adults. But it is often viewed as a form of entertainment or an exercise to reach financial security. When a college student is not conscious of the value that their time has, they can easily overlook opportunities to grow, despite their prevalence.
College can be a pivotal period of life for connecting ideas and developing awareness of both one’s identity and that of others. But part of becoming aware is understanding how to respond to adversity. Overcoming obstacles can be a key component of personal growth and increase discernment of how to achieve success. Booker T. Washington, one of the leading educators of the African American community in the post–Civil War era, wrote, “Success is not measured by the position one has reached in life, rather by the obstacles one overcomes while trying to succeed.” A student is met with a new challenge nearly every day, even with trivial things like dorm life. Initially, transitioning from having a room of your own to sharing space with a roommate is one of the first obstacles many encounter at college.
Many students enter college, myself included, having come out of a bubble and are introduced to the diversity of beliefs that permeate a new environment. If a person is open to change, they will re-evaluate some of their “normal” assumptions, like whether or not science and religion are compatible. This all contributes to the process of understanding, which is a necessary part of the over-arching college experience. A liberal arts education supports this process by supplying students with a broad base of knowledge, rather than a quick jump into specialization with the hope that the wealth of possibilities will help students find their specific vocation.
This is not merely criticism aimed at the unmotivated and undecided who are simply going through the motions. It’s a simple reminder to consistently step back and view this short time in college as a chapter of development and enlightenment. If you can recognize that it will determine whom you become and how you will handle the deluge of trials ahead, you are halfway there. It doesn’t matter where you are in your journey through college; a certain willingness is needed to take in all that one can while the opportunity is still present.
How often do you hear a person remark that they wasted half of their time away at college or did not value the opportunity for what it was worth? Unless you consider each lesson to be a part of something much more significant, the pieces will not add up. Malcolm Muggeridge, one of the more brilliant and controversial journalists of the 20th century, captured this when he said, “Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message.”