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The University

Emily Jay

"Never stop learning. That's my motto," the dean said to me from the other side of his large, barren desk.

"But I just want to transfer. I'm not dropping out." Don't be petulant, I reminded myself. You're a grown woman now.

"I see. Abigail Reeves, correct?" He rifled through the small paper pile on his desk. "I have your file here. It seems like you've been a good student for most of your time here. Straight A's your first year. A little downhill since then, but not bad, until this last semester. Lots of extracurriculars. You seem like you should be thoroughly enjoying yourself here." He looked up, bushy eyebrows merging with his hairline. "Why do you want to transfer?"

"I just...want some change," I half-lied.

"You want to change your major?"

"No, I like my major. I just want to get out of this city."

"Study abroad, then, maybe? There's a group going out to Italy in a few weeks. A little late to be joining it, but we could probably squeeze you in there." I wasn't buying this again. He'd say that now to please me, but if I followed up, I'd learn the Study Abroad was canceled, or all the seats were already filled, or the study abroad director was in the hospital after some freak accident.

"That's not really what I meant. Look, it's more than just a change of scene. I want to get out into my field."

"An internship, maybe? We could look into some openings for you." But there wouldn't be any openings, of course.

"No, I want to really be out in the field. I want to be a real engineer."

"Miss Reeves, hold on, now. You can't get out and working in your field if you don't have a degree. And from what I can see, you still have...seven credits to graduate. And you'll have to take a few more classes than that to keep your scholarsh-"

"Stop! No! I'm not falling for this again! Three years! Three years, the advisement center has been telling me, ‘oh, just a couple more credits to graduate, you'll be out of here next semester.' And then at the end of the semester, there's some loophole or some requirements were added or I wasn't properly registered for the class. And they tell me, just one more semester, and you'll have a degree. My degree made me take an advanced pottery class! And fencing! And a Native American lore class! I'm a civil engineer, Professor! I'm just a flipping civil engineer! Why do I have to know Native American lore?"

I regretted it. He studied me, cleared his throat, and began the lecture I knew too well. "Now, Miss Reeves, we want our students to be well-rounded, informed people. We want you to be cultured."

"Why? All I'm going to do is build roads!"

"Well, what about your personal life? ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.'"

"Which is why I examined my life, and I decided I want to transfer to another university."

"Well, that won't solve your problems, Miss Reeves. Their requirements will be very similar to ours."

"That's not true! It's only supposed to be a four-year degree! 132 credits! And I've been doing 18 credits a semester! Something is wrong with the degree calculation process. I should have over 300 credits by now! I should have my freaking master's degree!"

"Calm down, Miss Reeves. Now listen, perhaps you've failed some classes or weren't properly registered for them. It says here you have 125 credits. Seven more, Abigail! You can do seven more!"

"No! No, I've been here seven years! Last semester I was only four credits away from my degree, and now I'm seven. Why? Why?" So much for not being petulant.

"Well, it looks like all your degree requirements are met, you just don't have the minimum credit requirement. Why don't you just take some electives? Music classes, wood shop, yoga. Have some fun your last semester!"

"No! At the end of the semester, you'll tell me I missed something. That you were wrong, and I missed a three-credit required course. Or I wasn't properly registered for a class, so I have to retake it, but I won't be able to find the same teacher when I register for classes and I'll end up having to do all the assignments again. And then, poof, the degree requirements will change! Suddenly goshdarn archery is a required course for civil engineering! Suddenly I need to take advanced physics and chemistry courses! My friends in my classes, my roommates, they get their degrees and they leave. But I'm just stuck here. I came as a little freshman, all alone and just eighteen, and now I'm 25 and people always ask me how many times I've changed my goshdarn major, and I never have! I never have! And I study, I know everything, I swear I could tutor any other kid on the freaking campus. Really, I've taken doctorate-level writing courses, more advanced than any of my English major friends, and I've read more books than any of them, and gotten good grades, and off they go with their degrees, and I'm just stuck here, stuck on this goshdarn campus, always just short of my degree!"

"Abigail, Abigail, Abigail. Now, I know where you're coming from. I remember getting frustrated my senior year too, getting antsy to be out in the field and get on with my life. But I had a friend give me some advice that helped me, and I'm going to give it to you now: Don't worry about the degree." Oh, here we go again. "Just don't even worry about it. Take the courses you need to, and a few just for fun. Have a social life, make friends. Just enjoy yourself. These are the best years of your life. Before you know it, they'll be over with, and you'll reminisce about college life and the classes you wish you'd taken, the things you wished you knew more about. Dancing. I really wish I'd taken a dance class when I was young."

"I have taken a dance class! I have! I've taken five dance classes!"

"Well, they don't show up on your record."

"What?" I closed my eyes and struggled to remember. "Introduction to Tap Dance, Priscilla Ostler, Summer..2012. Introduction to Jazz, Amy...Whitmer? Fall 2013. Introduction to Ballet, Maria Vanderhorn, Spring 2014--"

"Abigail, I've never heard any of these names before. We have these courses, but I've been the dean here since 2010 and I think I know every teacher who's been on this campus. Now, listen, you're under a lot of stress, I'm sure. It's finals week and everybody's a little on edge during finals week. I think you should go get some counseling, and not for your degree. The fact is, you're not seeing things right. A counselor can help you see things from a fresh perspective."

"No! Please, I want to transfer!"

"Abigail, we want to keep you here."

And, suddenly, it dawned on me.

"Of course you do! This is Hell! This is Hell!"

"The university is not Hell, Abigail. You have no idea how lucky you are to be here. Do you know what kids in Africa would give to be getting your kind of education? Your expenses are all covered by federal aid, you're taking all sorts of fun courses, you can learn anything you want, be anything you want."

"But I never use it! I never use any of it! I know everything and I never use it!"

"Calm down, Abigail. I can see you're under duress. Look, I know it's hard to see sometimes, but all knowledge is valuable. You're expanding your outlook on life. You're becoming a more vibrant person."

"No! I want to transfer! Just let me freaking transfer!"

"Listen, Abigail, I want you to go talk to a counselor today, okay? We can set an appointment and talk about this again another time when you're feeling better."

As I left the room, he called back to me. "Abigail, remember, never stop learning."

I flipped him off.

Why not? He can't punish me if I'm already in Hell.