Though it seems impossible that this much time has passed this quickly, it has now been ten years since I graduated from college. I attended my reunion and they had a nametag for me, so it appears this is an incontestable reality.
Although academics are intended to be the main focus of the college experience, reminiscing with friends reminded me that some of my fondest memories have little to do with what went on in my classes. Indeed, one particularly special memory has to do with quite the opposite: skipping class.
Skipping class is a relatively normal occurrence for many college students. My school, however, was very academically-focused, and the overwhelming majority of students prioritized class attendance. As part of that majority, I also had the perspective that I was paying for an education. I didn’t understand why someone would invest good money in a class and deliberately choose not to attend.
I found out one day during the second semester of my junior year.
I had switched to an English major at the beginning of the academic year, and I was taking mostly literature classes. All of my courses had very interesting-sounding topics, such as gender and ethnicity in modern literature and writers of the American Renaissance.
One unfortunate day, however, the readings for all of my classes fell under the heart-wrenching topic of Horrible Things That Happen to Women in Various Time Periods and Geographic Locations.
My first afternoon class would feature an in-depth discussion of “Comfort Woman” by Nora Okja Keller, a novel based on the real-life experiences of Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. I had already cried my way through the book once for another class the previous semester, and I was not looking forward to doing so again.
My other afternoon class would focus on “The Scarlet Letter,” Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic tale of adultery and hypocrisy in Puritan New England. Having spent most of my academic career in New England, I’ve read “The Scarlet Letter” several times, and each time I just get angrier at the townspeople and at Reverend Dimmesdale.
I expressed my anguish to my friend during lunch, asking her why the English curriculum focused so extensively on such harrowing subject matter – to the point of repeating it in multiples classes – and why it didn’t include uplifting, meaningful material that didn’t center on suffering and despair.
My friend empathized and articulated her own lack of desire to attend her science class, an introductory course in which the professor taught directly from the reading assignments. As a Japanese Studies major, the class was not particularly useful to my friend – she needed to take it to fulfill a graduation requirement – and she was frustrated at putting so much time and effort into a class that she was getting so little out of.
Speaking in hushed tones over our hamburger wrappers in the student center, we discussed doing the hitherto unthinkable: skipping our afternoon classes. And not just going back to the dorm and watching a movie, but taking the campus bus into Boston and doing something lighthearted and fun.
Neither of us had done anything like this before. The only reason we had previously missed a class was due to illness. But there are times when the need to preserve your mental and emotional health outweighs your academic obligations, and this was one of them.
And so, in spite of our initial trepidation, we took the bus into Boston, went shopping (which, for us, meant going to places like the anime store and the sci-fi bookshop) and ate sushi.
It ended up being just what the doctor ordered. We were able to return to our regularly-scheduled academic lives feeling refreshed, revitalized and ready to take on the challenges of distressing subject matter and rote learning.
In addition to being an enjoyable experience, it was also an important reminder that taking a break when you need it is not only OK, it’s beneficial. This was an easy reality to forget on a campus where some students prided themselves on their overloaded schedules and regular all-nighters.
For those of you who will be starting or returning to college soon, I offer you the following advice. Study effectively, learn well and get a good return on your investment of time, energy and money. This will make it a little less painful when you have to start making payments on your college loans.
When college starts to get overwhelming (as it sometimes does), take a moment and consider how the situation that’s troubling you will affect you ten years from now. If it’s something that needs to be dealt with, ask God for strength and guidance – He never failed me during college, and He still hasn’t failed me now.
And if it turns out it’s time to take a well-discerned break, take it. Choose a safe and fun activity, enjoy it and return to your academics refreshed. You’ll have a great memory to share with your friends at your reunion, ten years later.
– Teresa Santoski
Originally published Aug. 7, 2014.