Personal Experience Trumps Reputation in the Liberal Arts

I am looking at my calendar, and it says I have 66 days until I graduate from Pomona College … seriously?

First-years ask me how it feels to be a senior, after all this time at a small liberal arts college like Pomona. Or they ask me what I’ve learned from my 3.75 years. Sorry, inquisitive first-year; if you’re going to ask me such a broad question, don’t expect a million dollar answer. So to all you underclassmen: Here is my reflection.

The first two months of senior year, I felt like I knew everything about these campuses, sometimes even that I owned them. I now know green curry and teriyaki together make a sophisticated yet yummy flavor at Collins’ World Wok. I know the order of the color change at Skyspace at night. 

Soon, so many first-years prodded me for answers, it made me spiral into an identity crisis of sorts. I staunchly avoid eye contact with them in the lines at Frank Dining Hall, eavesdropping on their classic first-year conversations: “How’s your first-year seminar going?” or “I am so jealous that you Mudd people have air conditioning.” Then they turn to me and ask the dreaded, “And how about you? Are you a freshman too?”

Right now, I have mixed feelings. Sometimes it feels hectic when dealing with the crushing stacks of books and lines of code for my senior project. Often, I find myself checking the graduation requirements again and again just to make sure I am ‘good to go.’ At other times, I tell myself that this is the last semester I can enjoy life as a Sagehen. So what if I need to complete 25 things on my 47-things-to-do-before-you-graduate list? I need to spend more time with my friends, teammates and favorite professors because it will never be the same after the final “So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen.”

From a shy first-year who tried to look smart via the classic ‘hesitating before saying anything’ to the active hand-raiser who says what’s on my mind, I’ve learned it’s OK to not have a complete answer. The thought process is a valuable asset that demands I speak up with confidence to express my understandings. Even more importantly, when dealing with five classes and 30 hours of homework, two costume parties and the new series of House of Cards, the need to prioritize becomes essential. You won’t be able to survive with stagnant priorities—they need to be continuously updated.

At the end of the day, no two people are the same, so don’t try to be someone else. I’ve learned it’s better to be myself and have become more comfortable with my identity. I’ve expanded my interests and realized that I should never narrow myself to areas solely related to my major, because who knows what I’ll be doing in 25 years? 

No longer do I follow Pomona’s Forbes ranking or dwell on the all-too-familiar need to show others that we are the ‘Harvard of the West.’ My experience in itself has been great enough that I don’t need outside rankings or other people’s “wows” to validate my undergraduate education. Education experts are using theories and data to understand whether a liberal arts education is too idealistic, if it needs more to be more career-oriented or if it should remain its basics. 

All I know is that I, as a senior, don’t get my answers from objective specialists. I get my answers from my own experiences.

So while people argue that the liberal arts aren’t practical and/or non-applicable post-college or, conversely, when they say Pomona is too pre-professional for a liberal arts college, I am calmly enjoying Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues.” And as the background tunes drift out of my speakers, I sit to the side, working on my senior project and reflecting on the past four years. 

Pomona’s job was to offer me abundant opportunities, and now my job is to act on them, mixing and matching the skills and interests I’ve acquired here, ready to head out into the ‘real’ world.

Xiaoyin Qu PO ’15 is a computer science & mathematical economics major from Qingdao, China. 

Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply