Yesterday, I took my final final exam. Now, short of receiving a piece of paper, I am done with college and also with the formal education system (for at least the time being).
I’m not a sentimental person, but I am a reflective person, so I feel compelled to write about my experience.
Several other posts already covered various aspects of college and also of Cornell specifically:
- One covers how I made my college decision.
- Another is a reflection in the middle of my first semester at Cornell.
- This one is an essay on why I chose to study math.
- Here is one on stress and focus on GPA at Cornell.
- And finally, I wrote one near the beginning of senior year, reflecting on what it feels like to have things figured out.
There are in total 35 blog posts (as of writing this) under the College category, including the ones listed above. But the most important post comes from before any of these, before even stepping onto the Cornell campus, and it is related not directly to Cornell, but to the University of Chicago, a post on Andrew Abbott’s “The Aims of Education” speech.
Abbott’s main argument is that education is not a means to an end, but the end in itself. He goes through why education is not best viewed as a way to improve financial status, a way to learn a specific skill, a way to improve general life skills, or a way to survive in a changing world. Instead, “The reason for getting an education here—or anywhere else—is that it is better to be educated than not to be. It is better in and of itself.”
This philosophical point I carried throughout my college experience. It is why I find it absurd to worry about the GPA of oneself and others so much: you’re here not to beat other people, but to be educated.
There is a lot of interest in the relation between academic study and the real-world job market. One hears jokes about English or psychology majors working in jobs having nothing to gain from an English or psych degree. But my situation is actually similar. As a math major pursuing a theoretical track (originally thinking about academia), I’ve encountered concepts that, at least currently, have no practical application. That’s a blessing and a curse. In the post I wrote about why I chose math, one of the pro points was precisely the abstraction of it. So, even though I will be working in a math-related area, it is almost certain that knowing that normal spaces are regular, or that the alternating group on 5 elements is simple, is useless.
Of course, it does help to know calculus and to have a good understanding of probability. But at least over the summer, we rarely ever used concepts that were outside my high-school understanding of probability or calculus. In other words, I could have majored in English and have been just as qualified.*
*(Perhaps taking many math classes trains you with a certain type of thinking, but this is hard to specify. I haven’t thought too much on this so if anyone has other ideas, please share them.)
Another thing I haven’t really talked about in other posts is socializing. I’m an introvert (INTP), and I could easily spend all day reading thought-provoking books or watching good movies without the slightest urge to unnecessarily talk to another person. I used to ponder this, but after reading Susan Cain’s wonderful book Quiet, I’ve decided to not worry.
Academically, I’ve expanded my horizons a lot since coming to Cornell, though not from math courses. While academia in general can be thought of as an ivory tower of sorts, math (and/or philosophy) is the ivory tower of ivory towers, so it is sometimes refreshing to take a class in a different subject that is only one step removed from reality.
In addition, I managed to keep this blog alive through college, though there was a period of time in late freshman/early sophomore year where there were few posts. By junior year, I was back in a weekly posting routine. And a couple of months ago, I started doing 2 posts per week, and that has been consistent so far.
Finally, I also subscribe to a quote allegedly by Mark Twain: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Even after college, I will always find opportunities to learn.
Overall, Cornell has been a great experience, and I would definitely recommend it, even if not for the reasons you were looking for. Enjoy, and keep learning!