The best advice I’ve ever heard about college didn’t come from an upperclassman, a professor or Seventeen magazine’s “Guide to College.” It came from my grandma.Grandma called me one night during my first semester here. It was a night when home seemed a universe away and learning within the college context felt unnatural, unimportant and unnecessary.
Grandma took a non-traditional approach to college. As a young woman, she earned an associate degree in biblical studies from Eastern Mennonite College. But it was many years later—when she was 50 years old, with four kids—that she completed her bachelor’s degree at Goshen College. In fact, Grandma overlapped at Goshen with my aunt, Lisa. They even walked across the graduation stage together.
That night, Grandma listened to my words, then offered me hers:
“College is like a filing cabinet. You learn about a subject, then you file it. As you learn throughout your life, you add to those files, but also add new files.”
It’s been four years since Grandma offered me that analogy, but it has taken me being a senior to fully understand what she meant. In my four years’ worth of classes, I have been pushed to “file” subjects that I may not have filed if I wasn’t in college.
In my sophomore year, in desperate need for one credit hour, I signed up for Athletic Training. My writing-art-literature-based brain couldn’t believe what it was getting into. But I found that wrapping ankles and learning about injuries was actually … fun.
During my sophomore year, I also found a “file” forming in my head for Mandarin Chinese. The daily tests and three-hour-long-classes brought tears and more than one Chinese swear word. But when I lived in China the following fall for Study-Service Term, my hard work allowed me to build meaningful relationships with my host families and students.
When I graduate, I’ll certainly be no expert in any field. But I feel confident in the files that college has placed in my head. Years from now, I hope to be able to say “I learned about that in college!” Yet I also hope that by then, my cabinet will be fat and overflowing with new ideas and stories.