Visiting Harvard, MIT, and Boston U: Learning

I spent four days in Boston, my first time ever visiting the city. It was incredible. The history, the architecture, the patriotism, and the abundance of “wicked smaht” kids was fascinating and completely enthralling. I never wanted to leave. Seeing the Harvard Library for the first time was overwhelming for me because of the sheer concept of the knowledge that lay within its walls. Walking through the Harvard Yard was also incredible as I saw the exact location where incredible people like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Sowell would be travelling from class to class. Walking through the MIT student center and seeing all the mathematical nuances and inside jokes (one of which I pride myself on having solved) littered the center. Traversing Commonwealth Avenue and seeing all the Boston University students socializing was even exciting.

Seeing two of the most respected intellectual universities in the world in MIT and Harvard was not only captivating but also inspiring. The level of intelligence needed to be an elite member of those tight-knit communities along with the work ethic they require to stay there made me want to go back to college and pursue another degree. I love college campuses, particularly ones such as these. They are full of young people who have a constant thirst for knowledge and learning where some other colleges have many kids just going through the motions until they receive their degree. There is no going through the motions at MIT or Harvard. You can’t. You’ll be finding another school very shortly. You’re there because you want to be there and you want to expand your mind. The variety of different people who were there on campus only to learn was welcoming to me. In my college experience, there were a lot of people doing coursework they didn’t like to receive a degree they thought they needed. MIT and Harvard were full of students who knew a degree was going to be achieved but wanted to actually learn and understand the subjects they were taking because they had fervor and passion for the subjects they were studying.

I’m not sure if it was my teachers, the curriculum, or maybe my initial major in college, but I found I didn’t have much desire to excel in my coursework. I wanted to do it, get a decent grade, and not have to think about that subject again. It wasn’t until I began studying English literature that I began to truly enjoy my classes and the coursework involved. I loved reading and writing and this was the only degree that was focused solely on those subjects. Maybe if I knew that from the get-go, I would’ve gotten into a prestigious university. Maybe I’d have the same result that I got, who knows. I’m happy that I received a degree in a subject I enjoyed, I just wish I would’ve figured it out a little sooner and would’ve had a full four years of it.

Since I graduated from college and learning in a classroom setting was no longer expected of me or pushed, I found I enjoyed learning a lot more. I missed it. For my current career, I found myself taking notes in our occasional classroom sessions more fervently than I did when I was at school whereas others might still go through the motions. I’ve become nostalgic for the classroom and the learning that takes place there. I had considered graduate school immediately after college because I was anxious about the “real world,” wanted to go back to the college days of partying and only having school to worry about, and wasn’t sure what to do with my life. After spending some time in the “real world,” I’ve found myself yearning to get back in that classroom atmosphere where ideas flow freely and the brain wants to absorb all that’s around it. I like studying when it’s about subjects I enjoy. There were many courses I took in high school and college that I despised, but the ones I enjoyed seemed to go by too quickly. I miss those classes and I miss that atmosphere.

After I left college, I found that, on top of the subjects I already loved, I had taken up an interest in subjects I had no previous interest in. In school, I didn’t like science, I didn’t like business, and I absolutely despised mathematics. Since school, I’ve started a business, watch YouTube videos by Neil Degrasse Tyson, and while I still hate advanced math, can see that it is essential to the world. When I wasn’t required to learn, I enjoyed it a lot more. I was under no expectation to read books every week and take exams on them. Yet, I read about two books a week (a number which I’d like to raise) on things I liked before, subjects I never expected to enjoy, and now I recall more from them and enjoy the physical act of reading more than ever before. I get to study what I want, not always when I want, but that’s okay. I read books and study subjects because I want to, not because I’m compelled to. I think that’s what schools and universities got wrong. Yes, you need a basic understanding of a variety of subjects like math, history, and what have you. But universities are where you study a specific subject. I was disheartened when I was a business major at Arizona State University and came to find I had to take calculus and biology. I studied those in high school. Why did I need them again at college? I haven’t used them since and still don’t wish to study them. Economics, accounting, finance? These are what I was hoping to study and while I changed my major anyway, this reason was one of the few that led to that choice.

When I transferred colleges, I decided to change my major and focus on subjects I wanted to pursue. I wanted to study English literature, both classic and modern. I wanted to learn about the stream of consciousness writing of James Joyce, the lyrical profundities of Shakespeare, and learn to write compelling enthralling stories. While I don’t feel I took enough classes in these subjects in college, I continued to study them afterward because they were exciting to me. Maybe it was the requirement to complete assignments, study the specificities day after day without a break, or maybe it was a lack passion from my professors that led to me not liking certain classes. On my own time, however, I found I would come to love these subjects as I could do them at my pace, my way, with passion and internal desire being the only motivating factors.

Teachers and professors play a major role in their students’ performance. I found that classes where I disliked my professors I did poorly in. On the other hand,  I particularly recall one professor who I loved as a teacher. So much so, I rewrote a paper that I had done poorly on because I missed the objective just to show him that I could write a well-composed and proper essay on the subject with no expectation of receiving a higher grade as the deadline had already passed. I had the sole goal of proving to him that I wasn’t a dunce and that I was a superior student. This professor sparked something in me and it was evident because of the dry subject he was teaching: Early American Literature from the 1700s. This impeccably boring material was made enthralling by a professor with a passion for it. At the end of the semester, just before the final exam, I told my professor that I was going to get an A in his class and an A on the final exam. He said he had no doubt. After taking the exam, I had an A on the exam and in the class. Throughout the remainder of my time at Illinois State University, I would go to his office hours despite not being in any of his classes and would talk to him for hours on a variety of subjects from literature, life, baseball, and women. He had an unbelievable effect on my career as a student and my time at ISU. I still keep in contact with him to this day.

Studying something you have a passion for is incredibly important, if not the primary deciding factor in studying it. Too many people major in subjects they don’t enjoy and therefore hate their experience and go on to either work in a field which they’ve grown to despise or withdraw from that subject entirely. The historical campuses of Harvard, MIT, and Boston University reminded me of this. Seeing the architecture and culture surrounding the campus along with the history of the Harvard Library, the beautiful design of the MIT buildings, and the unique location of BU are beautiful aesthetic features but it’s what goes on inside these buildings that is most captivating to me. The desire to learn, develop your mind, and study what you love is inspiring. Yes, I know there are plenty of students attending institutions that are studying things they don’t enjoy but there is an abundance of students that are. I only hope that I can continue learning with the same fervor and passion as a university student who loves his field of study.

I’d like to point out that throughout this essay on my trip to these historic campuses that I referred to the students and myself as learning, not going to school. Learning and education are things that continue throughout your entire life whereas attending school is only for a period of time. I think a lot of school gets in the way of your education, such as the subjects I was forced to take but were of no benefit to me. I know plenty of people who’ve spent a lot of time at school yet still remain ignorant afterward because they ceased their learning the moment they left school. Stay young, stay inquisitive, and keep learning.

There will be more posts regarding my trip to Boston as I went to historic downtown Boston and walked the Freedom Trail, went to two baseball games at legendary Fenway Park, and saw the Boston Harbor and Quincy Market for the first time. I’d like to be able to call Boston my second home as I long to be there and cannot wait for my next trip of many to come.

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