The grind: Everything I know I learned in college

Story by David Taintor

This is it. The end of the semester, and the end of my undergraduate career. College goes fast. And I know that at this point in the semester, we’d all be glad if it just got over with. But I’m asking you to savor it. Whether you’re graduating next weekend or you’re a freshman, take time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished throughout the semester. Celebrate triumphs and learn from mistakes; always be curious and continue to grow.

One thing I’m grateful for is that UW-Eau Claire is small enough that students can interact directly with faculty and that so many professors’ doors are open – literally. If there’s one thing that’s really connected me to the classroom, it has been the extra insight and explanation I’ve gained by asking professors questions during office hours. I’m always amazed to hear how few students take advantage of this time. Large lecture halls can be overwhelming, and sometimes the best learning happens in that brief one-on-one appointment.

Another imperative habit to get into is going to class. This seems obvious, but just go. If that means you have to schedule classes after noon or slog through an espresso on the way to class, so be it. No one will argue that better attendance equals better grades. I won’t argue where you should sit – back, front, middle – just show up, jot down at least a few notes and keep your eyes open. It makes a big difference.

On top of showing up for class, take every opportunity to improve your writing at the university. This is easy for me to say, as a journalism major, but it is so important to be able to write well. Too many people, across all disciplines, leave the university with insufficient writing skills. Effective communication, which includes being able to articulate ideas on paper, will be tantamount to success after graduation day. Write, write and then write some more.

It doesn’t need to be a work of journalism, or a creative writing class – although both those are great opportunities – but take advantage of research essays and analyses.

Next, pay attention. At the risk of standing on a soapbox, I implore you to be acutely aware of what’s going on around campus. This includes all the good things – like events that raise social awareness, films, plays, and so on – and all the hard realities that the university faces – such as fewer class sections, allotment of Blugold Commitment dollars and any wasteful spending that might come along. Be involved in the university, because you pay a lot of money to be here. Go out on weekends and spend time with friends, but work hard and be aware of the university community you fit into. Go to the chancellor’s round tables. There’s no excuse to be upset about the university’s decisions when these open forums go unattended time after time. And, if nothing else, there’s always free punch.

Don’t get too hung up on choosing a major. Study what you want to. I know there is immense pressure put on students by parents to study business or biology, a field that will lead to a lucrative career. But take electives and general education courses, and explore all the possible disciplines you’re interested in. You’ll never know you’re interested in philosophy, or music, or art, or geography or literature until you immerse yourself in it for a semester. Study what interests you now, what enriches your life here, and worry about the money later. I promise you that you’ll get a job doing something you like. A college degree is just the golden ticket to get you there; the major itself doesn’t matter so much.

And, of course, The Grind wouldn’t be complete if we ended the semester without talking about coffee. The second-most-traded commodity after oil, coffee has been just about as beneficial to my college education as the textbooks. So grab a mug, study hard and enjoy your time here, because it goes fast.

The Grind is a weekly column. Taintor, The Spectator’s editorial editor, can be reached at [email protected] He blogs at