Leaving college with a diploma and a whole bunch of questions

Three and a half years ago, I knew exactly where I was headed.

I was entering college as a journalism and graphic-design major. I had 16 advanced placement hours in German from high school. So I thought I'd add a German major just for fun. Music and theater practice would fill my afternoons and evenings. I would intern at Southern Living magazine next door to my school. I'd have a full-time job there when I graduated.

Well, in the past three years a lot hasn't happened. I tried out for several plays, but I didn't have enough time for the practices. I sang one semester in choir, but couldn't fit it into my schedule again. Because I was trying to get out of school early, I never had time to work the required hours for that internship.

My majors didn't stay the same, either. After getting a C in a beginning art course, I dropped the graphic design major. Instead of staying at Samford to finish my journalism requirements, I opted for six months at the University of Heidelberg, in Germany, where I could take a variety of courses taught in German and have them count toward my German major.

Because of the way my credits transferred, I came back and journalism became a minor. Then, I had one major: German.

During my stay in Germany, I learned a lot more than the difference between Rotkohl and Helmut Kohl. I realized the world is bigger than Samford University, Birmingham, Ala., and even the United States of America.

It seemed my Mongolian, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and German friends knew more about the liberal arts -Goethe, Dostoyevsky, and Faulkner; socialism, communism, and democracy; even American politics -than I, the liberal arts student, knew.

A month ago, I graduated with a piece of paper I paid more than $40,000 for.

My diploma has Bachelor of Arts, Cum Laude printed in black ink across the middle. My transcripts document my 130 hours of college credit and my 3.75 GPA. My portfolio includes articles I wrote for The Samford Crimson and logos and layouts I designed for Exodus magazine.

And now, 3-1/2 years after my naive, freshman plans were laid out, I have an internship with Southern Accents magazine.

But I still don't know exactly where I am headed. In spite of all my accomplishments, I feel inadequate, inexperienced, and ignorant.

So, does that mean I know nothing?

My journalism professor says PhDs will tell you the more they learn, the more they realize how little they know.

Maybe it is the same with me.

Do I feel ignorant because I haven't learned anything, or because I've learned how much there is to know? Is it because I don't have all the answers, or because I've started asking harder questions?

The truth is, I've learned a lot in those 3-1/2 years. I've learned about different cultures and people. I've learned about politics and literature and liberal arts.

But, I have also learned that I didn't know as much as I thought I did, and I'll never know as much as I want to.

Maybe that is what I was supposed to get out of college. Not all the facts, but lots of questions. Not a job, but a lifestyle. Not satisfaction with my intelligence, but the drive to learn more.

Maybe that's what this $40,000 piece of parchment paper is all about.

*Mary Grace McCaskill graduated in December from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.

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