A friend posted a really great link on facebook today. It’s about Professor Harold Scheub, who taught (and is still teaching) a class entitled The African Storyteller at UW-Madison. It was one of those massive freshman lectures that had between 300 and 400 students, and I signed up for it thinking it would just fulfill my elective requirement and maybe still be relevant to my Creative Writing degree.
As it turned out, it was one of the most interesting classes I ever took in college. Sure, I got to hear a lot of cool stories Professor Scheub gathered while hiking across Africa in the 60’s, but I also learned a lot about the art of storytelling. Totally relevant and beyond amazing. In fact, it was one of only two classes I ever saw a professor get a standing ovation in.
The other was for the greatest professor I ever had, Richard Knowles (who, if he doesn’t already, should totally have ‘Sir’ added to his name). I had him twice in one semester (lucky for me, because it was his last semester teaching), once a week for my Creative Writing seminar, and three times for a giant lecture on Shakespeare that is required of all English majors but was possibly one of my favorite classes ever.
Richard Knowles is one of the most recognized Shakespeare scholars in the world, but also happens to be a brilliant instructor and an incredible human being. My writing wouldn’t be the same without him, and I also wouldn’t know nearly as many dirty jokes.
Thinking back on my five years of college (at four different universities), I’m torn. I was not necessarily the most dedicated student in classes that weren’t relevant to me being a functioning adult (Vampires in Literature and Translation, I’m looking at you), and I had major issues getting out of bed for lectures that started before 10.
…… Fine. One!
I love learning. Always have, always will. I just didn’t like the homework/busywork/testing aspect of it all. And honestly, I don’t think a person could pay me enough to go back to school.
But as low as those lows could be (again, Vampires in Literature and Translation, I’m looking at you), there were also some incredible highs. Like the professors I mentioned above. Or someone like Nancy Marshall, who was part of the reason I wound up with a double major in Art History. Her classes (and I took three of them) were probably the only ones outside of my Creative Writing seminars that I never skipped. I dutifully went every week and loved every moment of it.
Or how about the introductory sign language class I took? Years later and I can still “recite” ONE FISH, TWO FISH, RED FISH, BLUE FISH, and I’ve actually used my limited skills once (albeit haltingly) with a lost tourist here in New York.
Then there was Woman Studies 101, which was so insightful and interesting, and taught everyone in that room a whole lot about reproduction that I don’t think any of us knew. It also turned many a friend into a feminist, to which I continue to clap. It really opened my eyes to a lot of women’s issues I wasn’t aware of before.
But I can’t forget the non-school-related things, like the time my roommates and I threw an Irish wake (complete with whiskey and Lady Gaga) after Boo Radley, my pet mouse, died, grocery shopping at midnight, drinking beers on the Terrace, all of the meals (and home goods) provided (unknowingly) by numerous roommates’ catering jobs, the football games, Bacon Tuesdays, and walks through the treacherous Wisconsin winters just to get to a class and realize it had been cancelled. Then there was the time my friend had to take me to the ER because I swelled up like a balloon (and then the boys couldn’t read a bus schedule properly and failed to get us home), all of Dan’s halloween costumes, and nights spent watching Rock of Love with a giant order of spicy potato pelmeni.
College was, inevitably, a great time. But now that I’ve been removed for long enough, I think I’m starting to see how it’s affected me. I know it’s why you go to college in the first place, to learn, but the longer I’m out in the real world, the more I realize that even the classes I didn’t like are still relevant. (Although I still can’t do math to save my life.) I went to a really great school and while I’ll be paying those loans off until my grandkids are dead, I can honestly say it was all worth it. As much as I disliked Wisconsin then, there is no doubt that its education system is bar none.
As Mr. Stein, my favorite high school teacher, always said, “From here you can go anywhere.” I always thought he was just saying that because it was in his contract somewhere, but you know what? He was right. Waukesha West HS really prepared me to go out into the world and do something with my life (and growing up in Wisconsin made me want to leave, so I guess I had double the push!). Waukesha West made it possible for me to get into a school like Madison, and my time there allowed me to move to New York and get a job doing what I love.
It all comes full circle. I’m actually using the things I learned (even when I thought I wasn’t learning), and I can actually appreciate Wisconsin now.
And on an even brighter note, I can get up before 8AM and not want to die.