Niketa Brar: The value of a true education

There are few things I can count on with more certainty than Christmas and President George W. Bush’s follies. One of them is that mood that strikes me every semester – the motivation I feel as I prepare myself for three and a half months of real, grueling work.

Every September and January, like a boxer hyped up on a regimen of protein shakes and steroids, I’m pumped. I’m in “the zone.” I’ve had a whole long break to bore the hell out of me and remind me that I do, in fact, love college. And as I tell myself – this semester, it will be different.

No more all-nighter marathons fueled by my espresso IV. No more “study sessions” that unravel into critiques of Britney’s parenting skills. And definitely no more putting off reading until it’s three days before midterms and I’ve got a measly 22 chapters of American foreign policy to read, review and own.

And so it begins. My motivated self feels like an honest to goodness student, absorbing all four hundred pages of assigned reading the first week. The next week I decide to reward myself by ignoring my anthropology assignment (it’s just a review of universalism and relativism!). The week after I’m cutting out two more assignments, not having caught up on last week’s reading and before I know it, I’m no more a student than Elle Woods in her green argyle cardigan, staring around hopelessly as she innocently mutters, “I wasn’t aware that we had an assignment.”

So then I’m right back where I was two years ago, crossing my fingers, hoping that through some divine act, the professor doesn’t call on me. But as I sit there, I begin piecing together context clues from my classmates’ discussion and somehow pull off a legitimate, semi-relevant comment, making off like a bandit in the face of impending doom.

And now I’m facing an even larger problem. Not only have I ignored my role as a student, I’ve gotten away with it. The next time I stare at 80 pages of reading, I’m going to wonder, “Do I really need to do this?”

Of course our faculty would say yes. My parents would say yes. And on a lazy summer day when I have nothing better to do, even I would admit to myself that I should be reading.

But somewhere between internships, student organizations and writing Hatchet columns on deadline, I lose focus. Living in the middle of such a dynamic city does make me forget why, in fact, I’m here. No, it’s not for the internships or the student organizations.

It’s because I’m in college. I’m a student. By definition, studying governs my existence.

And so I feel guilty. The job opportunities will always be there. Student groups aren’t going to change my life. But the education I receive in these four years will help define what I’m passionate about and what end I wish to achieve in this lifetime.

Of course, I’m not going to give my life and become an intellectual hobbit. My internship teaches me things textbooks don’t. Being involved with student organizations keeps me connected with my campus and classmates. And there’s always that old argument of how all these things teach me how to juggle life’s demands.

But life’s not just about making it through and not dropping the ball. Of course I’m juggling. But I’m also holding on to certain things a little longer than others. I’m trying to hold my education above the “other things” in my life, because that’s just what they are – other things.

Sure, my internship could help me develop crucial political connections and my mock trial experience might impress a law school admissions council one day. But once I get the Hill hook-up or the admissions letter, will I be able to live up to expectations?

Without making education the point of my current existence, I don’t see how I can. When I get out in the “real world,” I can learn skills on the job and replicate them smoothly – but can I come up with an innovative solution for a challenging issue?

In order to graduate from the world of advanced clerical work, I’ve got to be an expert on something. There’s a reason issue experts are plucked from the world of academia to serve as advisors up on the Hill. Without comprehensively understanding an issue from the ground up, the way we’re taught in college, it’s not possible to be the movers and shakers we dream of being.

It’s the guilt trip of a lifetime. Do your reading or you won’t end world hunger. Do your reading or you won’t be president. Do your reading or you won’t know enough to make a difference in the world.

But it’s that kind of pressure that challenges us to be the best we can. It’s that kind of pressure that will push us to succeed.

Because after reading 1200 pages of American history, there’s nothing more rewarding than changing it.

The writer is a junior majoring in international affairs and political science.

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