The recently late, always great John Updike once noted, “Four years was enough of Harvard. I still had a lot to learn, but had been given the liberating notion that now I could teach myself.”
And after four years of St. John’s, I’d have to admit that I’m thinking similarly to Updike.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I can’t compare myself too heavily to Updike. After all, I did not receive a full scholarship to Harvard, I have not written any novels, and I certainly have not won any Pulitzer Prizes.
But after reaching the tender age of 22 this January, and coming face to face with the realization that I will end my undergraduate studies at St. John’s soon, I’ve started reflecting, like Updike, more and more on what I’ve actually learned in college and, naturally, what lies in store for me in the future.
Professors and classes have come and gone – some good, some bad, some life changing, some too easy.
But while I remain undecided on how effective some of my classes have been, I am entirely certain about one thing: the most important lessons I’ve learned these past four years have hardly come from a classroom; rather, they’re the type of life experiences that we are constantly learning, inside and outside of college.
What stands out most is a moment from the second semester of my freshman year. I had just entered St. John’s, had begun forming a social life around campus, and was attempting to fully immerse myself in academia. I spent all my time on campus and, in a sense, came to live in a sort of college bubble.
But soon into the semester, a life-changing event snapped me out of my world of classes, organizations, and social gatherings.
My parents picked me up one morning outside Gate 6 to drive to Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan to visit my grandmother, who had recently taken ill. I had been terribly busy in the week or two prior, and was largely unaware of how she was doing, or how serious it was.
As I got into the car, my dad looked back at me.
“Alright guys, let’s get prepared for this,” he said. “I’m sure this won’t be easy.”
I paused for a moment to digest these words. My grandmother, in fact, was slowly dying; and, perhaps just as devastating, I was not aware of the situation. I had not been keeping track of what mattered most in life.
The trip to see my grandmother proved to be one of the hardest, but most rewarding, experiences of my life.
It is almost impossible to describe just how difficult it is to see a loved one in such pain, and to see someone for what you know will be the last time. It’s the type of experience a classroom could never replicate.
These issues of life and death – these important lessons that only experience can teach us – are what make the most lasting marks on our personality and our character. Since that semester, I’ve learned to think outside the college bubble – to not let myself get so immersed in schoolwork, Torch work, or anything college-related that I lose track of what’s most important in life.
Rather, I more fully realized that college is just a complement – a means of educating ourselves to better understand the problems we face as we progress through life.
And now that my time on campus is almost up, I fully agree with the late John Updike: four years of college is enough.
In all truth, there’s more to learn off-campus than on; the best we can hope for is that our time at St. John’s can help us understand and cope with the difficult decisions, problems, and issues that arise so often throughout life.
With a little luck (cross your fingers), I will earn enough credits to graduate in May. And as I rise to get my diploma, I’m almost positive that I won’t be thinking of any class I took these past four years, a professor that made a lasting impact on me, or any of the late hours I spent at the Torch office.
I’m sure that I’ll be thinking of my grandmother, and the invaluable lesson she taught me so early on in my college career – a lesson that no textbook can ever adequately teach.
So while school may be important, it’s essential to remember Updike’s words: we still have a lot to learn.