Monday, June 3, 2013

Principles I lived by in college, Part One: I took extra classes that challenged me and had absolutely no importance towards my graduation.

Part of the fun in being a writer is that you don't have to settle on one specific topic-- you become a jane of many trades, a renaissance woman of sorts, not necessarily staying in any particular industry, but writing about people who have. I liked being in journalism school because I liked learning how to comb out my grammar and learning how to make All the President's Men relevant material in all of my classes. J-school classes were very great, but my favorite subjects I studied were the ones I took for nothing more than the hell of learning something new. (There's only a couple of us at every institution who actually appreciate learning, but here I am, a rare breed!)

It took some extra caffeine, but I let myself take classes in subjects irrelevant to my graduation.

At the bottom of my transcript there's a miscellaneous category that should be titled "GPA ruiners that your optimistic little heart still enjoyed despite all odds."

I took some great stuff: dance classes, SCUBA class, some other easy one-credits. I also took some really hard things: histories, exercise science and personal training classes, philosophy, myrmecology, siphonapterology.

Unfortunately, my expression of interest outside my major field was never rewarded the way it should have been. For example, one particular class I enrolled in last winter left me with scars on my transcript, GPA and my soul.

I'm going to refer to this class as Nazi Germany. This class featured a subject that I was quite interested in. We were assigned weekly papers on various readings and grad student graders were assigned to tell us our work sucked based on the alphabetical location of our last name. There were three graders: Cute little curly-blonde mother-figure-type donning a blue daisy sundress (floppy hat included), tall brunette with earthy shoes, tie-dye headband and colorfully-patched backpack, and Ben.

My grader was Ben.

The first paper I turned in, I got back with a big fat zero written on it.

I went to his office hours after class, introduced myself and attempted to understand my grade (or lack of). There must have been a mistake!

Ben, so thoughtful as he was, assured me that there had been no mistake for I had used too many sources. Granted, I had two sources, but I was only to use one.

I explained to him, "Mr. Ben, I am sorry, bear with me. I'm a journalism major taking this class out of sheer interest. Where I come from, MORE sources is a good thing. Next week's paper will be the less-credible standard of your liking. Promise."

The next week I improved.


I went to Ben's office hours after class, introduced myself (again) and attempted to understand my grade. This time as I approached the closet they must have accidentally assigned him to instead of an office,  another girl was leaving the room crying. I assumed it was because Ben was just such a funny guy!

"Mr. Ben, I used fewer sources like you wanted. But I'm still confused why I'm only getting a D. There must have been a mistake again."

Ben, in the respectful way that he was, told me there had been no mistake. I had, in fact, received a D, this time, because I had used too many quotations from the cited reading.

Again, I told him I was a journalism major. We are taught that more quotations, more citing of credible source materials = good job. His response: "That would explain your ridiculously short paragraphs."

When I asked Mr. Ben what I could do to get an A, what made an A paper, he told me it depended on the paper, which I assume really just meant on his mood that day.

I told him he was a great guy. Then I silently farted in his closet and left him for dead.

I was determined to prove Ben wrong. I spent a lot of time on this Nazi class writing papers with as few quotes and sources as I could not find.

In the end, I pulled out a C-.

What's sad about my C- is that my intentions of the class were so good. I wanted to learn. In the end, I learned a new way to think, I learned how to use criticism to better my writing and I learned that some professors are going to treat you like a fart in a closet office.

I am so glad I took this Nazi class. I am so glad I took extra classes. I am hopeful that there is a professor out there who sees the value in teaching people outside of his or her field of study. Instead of the mentality that the 101 class is a bunch of stupid freshmen trying to fill their basic requirements, it is as an opportunity to get a bunch of stupid freshmen interested in the topic in which one's devoted to his or her life's work. My favorite class was a 100-level plant biology course. Not because I'm really interested in leaves. But because the professor made leaves really interesting.

If you have the extra time, take a class that isn't going to fit anywhere on your graduation requirements. Especially if you don't mind a little C- action every now and then. You'll learn a lot about something new. And maybe you'll meet somebody as outstanding as Mr. Ben. And if you're lucky he'll make you cry.

(Author's Note: You can take classes pass/fail. Do that. I wish I had known this sooner)


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