It’s finals week at California State University, Long Beach. Actually, my finals began last week, but the hard stuff is this week. I don’t know what it is about testing and writing final papers. I always get anxious, sometimes nervous beyond relief. Now, these are not time-pressured deadlines save for the deadline to submit. That doesn’t seem to matter. The problem is with the task itself.
I know that my semester grade is dependent on this. Sixteen weeks of studying, quizzes, a mid-term, writing other papers, class participation will mean very little if I flunk this final week. I’m sure I’ll still get a good grade of a “B,” but as you well know, such a grade is never good enough for me. At Long Beach City College, where I received my A.A. in English, only once did I garner a grade lower than an “A” sneak into my transcript. That was for Statistics. I can’t tell you how upset I was. That lone grade of “B” haunted me for weeks. That sound neurotic to you? And that’s the problem. One exam can really test your sense of self, patience, and measurement of how you are really doing in school.
Something isn’t right about that. Having served in the real world of careers, I don’t quite remember the last time someone asked me a statistics question or provide an analysis of Twelfth Night or spar with me on the true meaning behind Waiting for Godot. I mean, I wish they would. I’d be ready for them. Seems such a shame that you go through all the anxieties and gymnastics of studying and testing only to leave it behind once you leave school.
All those years in school, K-12 and College, and you can barely remember a fourth of it. What was the point? I mean, you know how much sleep I lost studying for a test only to discover that most of what I studied never appeared on the exam. What a waste of time is what I would say. And all this would be true if it wasn’t for the fact that I know this wasn’t just about memorizing facts. This semester at CSULB and my past semesters at LBCC were about my learning to think.
Wait, to think? Hell, I could have done that at home listening to some podcast with my eyes closed. And that would probably count too. Every time you watch television or a YouTube video or scan a website, you’re taking in information. If you’re conscious of what you’re doing, you’re learning to think.
I thought my years in jobs as a motorcycle messenger or bartender or waiter were just temp jobs until I scored the big career move. Actually, I learned so much about organizing, people relations, and how to make a mean drink (a great conversation starter even if I don’t drink anymore). I used to think that anything outside the formal setting of a school or a training course was just, oh I don’t know, just living, doing a job, making a living. The reality is I was learning to think through life. I’m not just talking about learning to survive in those cold, savage jungles of New York, Washington, D.C., or Los Angeles (Okay, that too). I was learning how to view the total picture, the complexity of reality, an event or a situation, the people I met along the way, make decisions based on facts, instincts, experience. Did I always get it right? Oh, hell no. But, even when I got it wrong in Statistics, I learned something other than I would never take that course ever again. I sharpened my analytical skills.
I could go on with a long list of skills that I acquired doing activities outside of school. But, my time at Long Beach City College and now in the waning days of my first semester of CSULB have given me an appreciation of the power of formal education. The professors, the textbooks, the lectures, the interaction with fellow students create an environment where you can lose yourself in intellectual enlightenment if you allow yourself. Does that mean every class I’ve taken is equal in the results? No, some are better than others. But, I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to waste any chance to learn to think.
I haven’t. As I wrote in a reflections letter that was part of the finals for an English class,
“You can sail through college and get that degree and not remember a damn thing you studied. Or you can take each day to allow yourself to be absorbed by what you learn.” If you choose the latter path, you will be changed forever. I have, and I am.English 380- English Studies
I shared with him my daily mantra, “Eat life like you’re starving. You may feel full at the end of the day, but damn, it tasted good.” The class, like life, offered me a buffet of mind-altering intellectual dishes in sixteen weeks that left me very full. I can comfortably say that my brain and my spirit feel very satisfied.
And isn’t that the point? You walk away from a person, an event, a job, and if you feel like, damn, I’m wiser now than I was before that encounter, you can smile. All that knowledge will go into my memory banks and be available to use the next time I want to learn something new. I’m doing Finals Week like it’s one more opportunity to learn something new no matter how stressful it might be. Because some things in life are worth putting a little more effort into it.