As the school year comes to a close and amid all the graduation festivities, I can’t help but be a little reflective about my time as a student. This spring, more so than any other year of my life thus far, has been especially poignant to me. Not necessarily in the negative sense of the term, but I guess in the heart-wrenching way that tends to be associated with times of change. This past week, I graduated from the University of Utah with my Honors Bachelor of Music in Flute Performance and minor in Political Science (phew, that’s a bit of a mouthful), said goodbye to a campus community that I’ve grown accustomed to calling home, thanked dozens of amazing people who’ve influenced and encouraged me along the way (quite the emotional experience in and of itself), and moved back in with my parents for the summer (and no, I feel absolutely no shame in that decision at all).
And I can’t help but just think about how quickly things can change. In the span of less than a week, one of the most prominent parts of my identity for the better part of the last 17 years—that of being a student—is seemingly gone for the foreseeable future. As someone who’s always had a bit of a reputation for asking too many questions, loving school a little too much, and a self-diagnosed workaholic, the decision not to apply for graduate school immediately following my undergraduate degree was a surprise (more so for myself than for anyone else). For so long, I thought going as quickly as possible through higher education just seemed like the only way to go for anyone who wants to claim success in the world.
If I’ve learned anything in college, I’ve learned that school is not the only pathway or measure of success. In fact, I might even go as far as to say that there are far more important things in life that people should take time to seriously consider, things like: the value of kindness, the spirit of generosity, the ability to critically analyze the world around you, and the strength it takes to genuinely think beyond yourself.
In some ways, I believe the process of realizing these tenets as the values that I currently hold onto most dearly in life is more important than the tangible skills of musicianship and policy analysis I’ve learned for my degree. In other ways, I could argue that it is only because of my experiences in music and political science that I am even able to think about my world based on these tenets. In any case, I can definitively say that it is because of my time in college that I am brave enough to admit that there might be times in a person’s life when the institution of higher education can wait.* There are times in a person’s life when education might have to take the form of something different.
In the fall, I’ll be moving to France to teach English in a secondary school in the Académie de Nancy-Metz (a French educational administrative region) with a program funded through the French government called Teaching Assistant Program in France. While preparing to move to another continent, I’m not under the impression that this experience is going to be the “Grand European Tour.” I don’t necessarily have an interest in finding the best baguette in all of France or having the clichéd “life-changing” experience after visiting Paris. In fact, I’m preparing for mental, emotional, and cultural shock that I hear often comes with an extreme change like this and embracing the very real potential of fear.
Challenges aside, my larger goal with this experience is to recontextualize and question the tenets I’ve just spent the last few years of my life developing. I want to place these values in a culture and community drastically different from anything I currently know and see if they still hold true. My logic behind this decision is if I find that after this next year that I still value the same things I value today I will be able to more clearly build a career and life based on those ideas.
Having received an education and a college degree is such a privilege in this world. Being in the physical, emotional, and financial position to embark on a journey for the sole purpose of validating (or invalidating) what I think I know is an even greater privilege. So even if I’m not in school working on a degree, I hope that I will still be learning. I know I will still be growing. And most likely, I will still be that annoying girl asking too many questions. With opportunities like that, there is no way I can be sad that certain chapters in my life coming to an end. Because if you think about it, ends and beginnings are the same point, just on different timelines.
* I would like to acknowledge the socioeconomic privilege that has allowed me to go on for so long through the educational system. I recognize that there are entire groups of people who never get a real choice on whether or not they can stay in school. In my lifetime, I hope to actively work on making access to education a right for all.