I'm never leaving
The paradoxical problem presented by independence
In high school, I don’t think it would have ever occurred to me to feel grateful for my spot in a classroom. Call it entitlement, call it arrogance, call it a “first world problem” — I was a child and it was the law. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy school, because I always have, but it was just what I did. It was what everyone did.
Four years later, it’s March 2014 and I can count the days until my college graduation, the days until someone will no longer expect me in his or her classroom — and I have never gripped a seat so firmly or been so thankful to be listed on a course roster.
College life in this country, especially at large, public schools like ours, is focused on fostering independence and making students responsible and accountable for their decisions. With independence comes responsibility. This is iterated to us again and again, in the form of grades, social life, internships and jobs. And at the risk of generalizing, I’ll assume we all chose this University with a certain predisposition toward independence. There are many colleges which hold your hand through the entire process, but these are places many of us consciously avoided.
So, here I am. Here we are. As conditioned and prepared for independence as we’ll ever be. Fledglings hatching from our eggs, crawling to the edge of a cliff, opening our eyes, eager to exercise our independence in the real world and to carve our personal paths in life — and it’s terrifying.
People have always said, “No one cares more about you than yourself. Take care of yourself first.” This mantra is pretty hard to follow while living under your parents’ roof — the roof which served as our crutch for more than 18 years. But as time passes and we get a little bit older, the real truth in this statement emerges.
For two more months, there are actually people who want to inspire me to learn; there are people — really smart ones — who care whether or not I complete a task, who care if I come somewhere at an appointed hour and who care if — and how deeply — I understand something. When these months are done, no one will really care anymore. Why should they?
Of course our parents will always be proud and support us in what we do, but this only counts for so much. For our own selves and our self-advancement, it becomes necessary to keep Mom’s and Dad’s opinions — their idealized, infallible images of us — constrained to a small compartment of our brains. I think it’s true — besides them, nobody really does care what you do.
It’s a struggle realizing this while simultaneously realizing the dependence I have on my schooling will soon come to an end. Certainly, it’s a causal relationship. When the end of something is near, its value emerges. It’s an unfortunate truth, but it’s human nature.
So what happens when these two realizations cross? They don’t just merge paths. They crash.
To this school, I may be just one name in a database of nearly 15,000 fellow undergraduates. I’m sent automated emails, required to meet the same academic standards as everyone else, charged a fixed price — just one infinitesimal value among a host of statistics.
But, for myself, I count for something in a classroom. There is red, handwritten ink in the margins of my papers, someone calling on me to speak and personalized attention and direction whenever I need it. I am held to expectations — so for the remainder of the time someone actually cares what I do, I’m going to show I care, too.
There may be a point in my life when I return to school, but these plans are not in my immediate future. I can assuredly say for the final surefire time in my life, these are the last two months my presence in a classroom is required. And it will eagerly be filled.
I suppose this is the point in the narrative when I thank everyone who has helped me get this far along the way. We do owe our education to all those who have made it possible, so here goes to my parents, my siblings and an especially big thank you to all my teachers and my University professors.
But more so than anyone else, thank you to myself. Thank you for realizing, before it’s much too late, something I hope everyone else will realize before he or she graduates, too.
Valerie’s column runs biweekly Fridays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.