Friday, August 13, 2010

Perpetual Student

If I could figure out a way to fund it, I wouldn’t hesitate to enroll.  I proposed the idea to my parents as an undergraduate, but they didn’t warm to the idea.  Still, my dream job? Being an eternal student.  Ah, yes.  What could be better? Perhaps you don’t agree with my romantic notions of libraries and essays, lectures and philosophical debates argued over bottomless cups of coffee in cafes at midnight.  Perhaps I’m showing my nerdish underbelly, my hunger for more: more knowledge, more ideas, more learning to furnish my inner bookshelves. 

But there is something magical about walking on to a college campus.  There is history woven between cobblestone paths and innovation lurks above dusty chalkboards.  Rooms filled with uncomfortable desks exude possibility, a promise of dreams come true, and hints of answers to nagging questions.  I miss being a student.  I research the best California universities, US News Ranking and Reviews: Best Colleges, Lists, browse websites of top universities, and scroll through continuing education course schedules.  I drool over syllabi and required book lists, jotting down classes I’ll never take, like a kid in a candy shop making a wish list. 

I hear it too – today’s undergraduate degree means nothing, master’s degrees don’t buy employment, PhD’s can be bought on the Internet and completed within a week.  I see proof of the stakes being raised, a BA no longer adequate but merely a stepping-stone to more courses, further education, and longer lists of letters after your name.  I’m sure it’s partly true.  My master’s degree often hurts more than it helps – making me ‘overqualified’ for positions and under qualified for others.  But my student lust doesn’t care.  I don’t crave course work and late night cramming sessions for the end result.  I crave them for the experience.  I miss the atmosphere of learning, the circular conversations pondering life’s mysteries; the dorms littered with fliers of rallies, lectures, and back room concerts.  I miss the transformation into the known, the journey of textbooks filled with meaningless jargon that becomes personal, understood, and deep once the class is completed.  I miss study groups in the library; amidst stacks of history, fiction, psychology, and science...tomes stuffed onto shelves, offering forgotten concepts swirled with revolutionary breakthroughs.

I know I have selective recall.  I choose to ignore the anxiety before exams, the pressure of essay due dates, and the panic at being called on in front of 300 other students.  I brush off the gnawing worry of ‘What to do when I grow up’, and the bitter aftertaste of ‘So, what’s your major?’  I forget about all-nighters fueled by coffee and stress, keg stands located outside my dorm room on a Tuesday night, and the competition to achieve the most, winning by triple-majoring with 2 minors.  I know it’s a package deal, but I can’t help but wish for simpler days built upon semesters and summer break, filled with the promise of answers, propelled by a love of learning simply for the sake of learning.  

So I collect course listings and bookmark Southern California university sites (University of Redlands) (UCLA Extension Courses). I discover new topics to study, new pockets of interest, and fresh ideas to ponder.  I become my own teacher, checking out library books and reading articles to flesh out my syllabus.  I integrate college into my adultish life, and strive to walk about my days with the eyes of a student.  It’s not quite the same, minus brick paths and clothing dusted with chalk.  It lacks the crowded coffee shops crammed with textbooks and laptops, silent students armed with highlighters and espresso. 

But learning doesn’t have to end at graduation.  Education isn’t limited to classrooms and final grades.  I can enroll in my life, and find teachers along my way.  I can tote new ideas in my purse and spark debates from my living room.  I sign up for lectures and stretch for innovation.  I will always be a student, searching for answers.  I will always be a student, and even better, a student without exams and report cards. 

I get to be a student who studies for the sake of knowing, and learns simply for the love to learning.  Ah, the life of a student. 

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