I was looking forward to this moment for a long, long time. 23 years, to be exact. On June 11, 2011, I received my college degree from Oregon State University and brought my school career to a long-awaited end. It was supposed to be a blissfully joyous occasion, and – don’t get me wrong – it was! But the excitement of it all swiftly dissipated once the festivities were over. In its place came an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia and sadness at the passing of a pivotal chapter in my life.
After having a late celebratory lunch with my family that day, I came back to my house and collapsed on the couch. That’s when it really hit me. College was officially over. No more school… ever (at least for the foreseeable future). I finally had the time to pursue my dreams, but that was the last thing I wanted to think about. I was instead dwelling upon the last four years of my life and how I had grown as an individual.
College, to me, was less about training for a particular career and more about becoming a man. For example, I learned the value of integrity through some very close friends. Being forthright with your personal shortcomings is incredibly challenging and requires a heavy dose of humility. I was humbled a lot in college – even in the classroom. As any graphic designer or fine artist can attest, criticism can sometimes be hard to swallow.
I recall one specific humbling episode that stuck with me for the rest of my college career. I was a sophomore in the spring of 2009, and I was taking an studio painting class. It was an introductory course, so the projects ranged from oil painting to mixed-media collages. I never liked collages. I guess I always preferred using brush or a pen. Anyway, for the collage assignment, I ripped pages from my old, doodled-upon notebooks and pasted torn pieces onto a 16 x 20 inch piece of matte board. The notebook paper happened to be yellow. To give the collage more of a focal point, I wrote “Take Good Notes” on some white notebook paper and pasted it in with the yellow paper. I thought it looked pretty good, and I just wanted to be done with the collage project.
We had our in-class critique the following day. When it was my turn, I got some generally positive feedback from my classmates. My professor, on the other hand, said that she didn’t like the contrast between the yellow and white notebook paper. Upon hearing her critique, I became visibly defensive and essentially told her I that I didn’t agree with her opinion. We moved on, but I felt tension for the remainder of the class.
My reaction was wrong for two reasons. First, I had shown disrespect toward an older and more experienced artist when she was really only trying to help me. Second, I was refusing to accept that my work might have flaws. So, the following class period, I apologized to my instructor and asked her what she thought I should do to make the collage more successful. She thanked me for the apology and suggested I replace the white notebook paper with the yellow paper. Here’s what I ended up with:
Looking back on it, I’m glad I listened to my instructor. Sure, it’s not the most amazing collage ever created – in fact, far from it! The real value of this piece is in the lessons I learned while making it.
I suppose the same is true of graduation. The real value of my college degree is not in the diploma or the fanfare, but rather the process it took to get there. I’ll always treasure my college years and the experiences I had. They make me who I am today.