When I told my mother that I wanted to take a year off, after secondary school, before going to university, she tried to be okay with it. When I finally enrolled, and she found out that I signed up for a certificate programme, instead of a degree, she was not pleased. I could tell by the snide remarks she made about me wasting her time and money.
Like any other working-class mother who was born with a wooden spoon in her mouth, she was adamant that “education is the key”. And I believe that. Just not the way she was trying to say it.
But what is university all about? Getting a degree in anything, taking any entry-level job that pays the bills…I
A spoken word, poet friend of mine has a piece on YouTube called “Paper Thing”. It’s about his experience at university, spending all his time and energy fighting for a degree, instead of actually learning. We think that the point of university is to spend three years to “get a piece of paper that says we’re entitled to more paper”, according to him.
Secretly, we all know that’s not the purpose of going to university. We all want to learn something new and interesting, and have that motivate and inspire us. But it’s either we get scared that others will get more qualified than us, or we simply give up on finding that subject of our dreams.
…we get scared that others will get more qualified than us…
My year off gave me time to realize whether I really wanted to do the things I thought I wanted to do in high school – in my case, Sociology, History and Literature. I realized that, as lovely as those subjects were, I had no intention of using them for the rest of my life. In fact, I stumbled on the things that I’m interested in during my time away from school. I became educated about myself, and what it was I wanted to be educated in.
I found myself acting in the Best Village Trophy competition, directing for the Secondary Schools Drama Festival, and teaching Theatre Arts (a subject that I never even did at secondary school) at Trinity College East.
After two years of studying something that I thought I’d do in university, I ended up being more passionate about something I’d only done for six months – theatre. And that still wasn’t what I ended up doing in university.
In the year I didn’t go to school, I also became an activist, travelled to South America, and even got sponsored by UNAIDS to go to Mali, West Africa, as the sole Trinbagonian representative at the Youth Summit on HIV/AIDS. I got to meet amazing people from all over the world. That year off, I did what I thought was important for me, and what I thought could help other people.
…are you prepared to do the degree thing all over again?
Think about it. Does your degree reflect what you’re passionate about? Or are you doing it because that industry pays well? Do you think you’re studying what you want to do for the rest of your working life? If not, are you prepared to do the degree thing all over again?
Everyone should strive to get the education that they want and need. It’s empowering. It makes you feel valuable and capable. But you don’t need a degree to get those feelings.
There are some things that you don’t get to learn about yourself, and what you want, from a university classroom. While I was in school, I was also a student journalist for The Student Press, and I decided to do that more seriously. That meant actual work hours, travelling from home to Port of Spain, ever so often, and dealing with a boss who had a very…particular disposition.
In that time, not only did I learn what I would love to make my career, but also how I’d like to work. I was able to set my standards about the kind of place I’d like to work at, what sorts of values I want out of the work environment, what I want out of a boss, and even whether I’d like full-time or freelance work.
These are not things that you ever get to learn at a university.
Instead, you have to figure out what sort of job you like, after you already have no choice but to take what’s offered.
Now don’t get me wrong, I do like the idea of a degree. I might even get one, after I take another year off, when I complete my certificate studies. But if I do, I’m certain that I’ll use it to create a more interesting job for myself, as an activist and a writer, and give me room to explore my other passions. I value formal education as the place where I learn and try to apply things that I can’t teach myself.
If you look hard enough, you’ll find that you don’t need a degree to be successful. What you do need is to focus on what you want out of life, and what will excite and motivate you, while you do that. In fact, don’t be afraid to skip university if your heart’s not into it. If you decide that you need university to fulfil your goals and dreams, go. But focus on the learning and achieving that builds you up, because, ultimately, your degree, by itself, won’t get you where you want to go.
Here’s that video from my friend Jean-Claude Cournand.
Image credit: http://cronkitenews.asu.edu