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ISSUE 115 VOL 21 PUBLISHED 5/10/2002

The positive side of liberal arts

By Erin Nickel
Contributing Writer

Friday, May 10, 2002

It goes without saying that we have enjoyed our four year expedition. All of us have undoubtably enjoyed some aspect of St. Olaf. Still, we are faced with a new opportunity to be scared senseless when we realize that, just maybe, we are not armed with the tools to survive in the real world. But these worries are groundless. While I still have many qualms about certain issues regarding Olaf, few can argue that St. Olaf graduates do not walk away well educated. St. Olaf prides itself on producing graduates who are exactingly trained in everything from Spanish to Organic Chemistry. Isn't that one of the main reasons we chose this school? Because it preached such idealism? Worst case scenario: If you don’t find a job out of college, at least you can find satisfaction in scoring high on Jeopardy and weekly games of Trivial Pursuit. Aside from academics, we cannot deny that St. Olaf represents a unique college which fosters a sense of community, integrity and diligence. Adopting these traits has not always been easy, and is not without its challenges. Still, the benefits will greatly outweigh any sacrifices or costs. Maybe the benefits can't always be felt in the job market, but certainly they can be seen in the context of personal relationships, confidence in making life choices, and the satisfaction of independence. These traits will act as the tools to survive the most trying of life's circumstances. While the liberal arts education offered at St. Olaf fulfills a personal goal of mine, the harsh reality is that our bubble on a hill is far from representative of the real world. Once we step off the campus, our problems become much greater than forgetting our key card and getting a B+ instead of that desired A on our last midterm. No longer do we have the comforts of dorm life or the security and structure of a small campus. Instead, we find ourselves in a world in which every passerby does not smile and say hi, and in which we learn to treasure the friendships we have worked so hard to attain. I do not intend this to sound depressing or cause us to question our decision to attend St. Olaf, but rather to force us to reevaluate which aspects of life at college we wish to take with us. True, I am frustrated that four of my courses at St. Olaf, an entire semester, must be devoted to countless dates with the language lab, when I could be taking a course which might actually interest and benefit me. Now that senior year is around the corner, I realize that Communications would be an excellent addition to my psychology major, but there remains one little problem: it is undoubtably difficult to major in subject matter that is not offered at St. Olaf. A more pertinent concern is how students at St. Olaf can apply their liberal arts education in a way that will both expand their minds and help develop the social skills essential in the world beyond graduation. This requires some balance. It means easing up on the studying (the library is not the only place on campus). It also means discovering and identifying your wants, needs and passions, and being able to have enough confidence to follow your heart even when others stand in your way. It means finding the happy medium between studying and partying, between coffee talks and movie nights. It means loving, helping, and taking risks. None of these are easy, and for many the college years are only the beginning. Perhaps these lessons, and everything the word “independence” involves, is what scares us about leaving our safe haven. As we embark upon a new journey, fear not. St. Olaf has offered every student the opportunity to begin this process of self-discovery. Rather than worrying about the nitty gritty details of being at St. Olaf, I think it would be to every student’s advantage to embrace the gifts of our college. We have four years at this unique school, and you are the only person who controls the experiences you have. With this first step the journey begins.

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