I’d like for someone to explain to me when exactly it became okay to openly mock someone about his or her educational choices.
A couple of years ago, I was sitting in a restaurant when I overheard a conversation between a young female bartender and a presumably 40-something male.
She explained that she recently graduated from college, and he proceeded to ask her what she had studied.
“Communications,” she politely responded.
Rather unapologetically, the man replied, “And now you’re working here?”
Surprised, and likely a bit offended, the young woman sheepishly confirmed, yes, she was currently working as a bartender.
“WELL, I didn’t even go to college, and I make THIS much money and blah, blah, blah,” the man went on.
I knew that sometime soon, I could very well be in that young woman’s position, and it was disconcerting to me that someone would openly and publicly criticize her decision to pursue an education.
Unfortunately, as I have personally come across this type of rude, unwarranted heckling, I can confirm that it happens very frequently to recent graduates. Let me back up for a second to provide some context.
I hold a bachelor’s of science degree in psychology. It is a choice I made and a goal I worked to achieve.
Initially, it was not an easy decision. I had entered college with the intention to pursue the pre-law track with hopes of eventually becoming a lawyer.
Well, that didn’t work out for me.
After one year in the political science department, I decided to take my studies next door to the social sciences building.
I was naturally drawn to the professors there; they were thoughtful, well-read and extremely knowledgeable on material I found fascinating.
Not that the political science professors were awful; I simply wasn't very interested in the material they taught.
Instead, I wanted to understand human perception, motivation and thought processes. I wanted to know what causes people to do the things they do, behave in different ways and to make various decisions.
Now, a quick Google search shows that bachelor’s degrees in psychology don’t yield the biggest immediate paydays.
But, I wasn’t concerned with that; I was and still am in pursuit of becoming a better and more well-rounded human being, which is why I chose this particular path of study.
There seems to be, especially among older people, quite a bit of disdain toward choosing majors that do not typically lead to lucrative employment.
I questioned myself for quite some time about my decision to switch majors before finally deciding I simply had to be comfortable with making my own choices about my education.
To this day, I am glad I did not pursue any other field of study.
Because of my studies as a psych major, I have an entirely different approach to life than I would have otherwise. I have more understanding of the issues that others face.
Instead of labeling someone unfairly for his or her behavior, I stop to consider all angles, including the potential for a mental illness of some sort.
I also feel that I am markedly more effective in resolving conflict having learned proven strategies for developing and maintaining interpersonal relationships.
Why is it, then, that a grown man once laughed out loud at me (yes, that happened) when I explained to him that I had gone to college and earned a degree in human behavior?
Why is it that the poor girl working at the bar has to listen to a man babble on tauntingly about his financial superiority, while he makes degrading comments about her efforts to learn things about the world?
The truth is, there is a stigma against the study of anything that doesn’t immediately lead to a full-time job upon graduation.
I cannot explain how many times I have heard older people say something passive aggressive, like, “So, what are you doing with that degree?”
It is as if they expect me to already experience failure in my adult life due to an educational path I chose at 19 years old. It is difficult for them to see the value in education when it does not translate to an immediate cash pay-out.
Some people believe gaining knowledge just for the sake of better understanding the world is not enough; there must be a tangible, monetary reward. Well, that can be a lot to ask of someone who just spent 18 years in a classroom. It is also incorrect.
Now, money is important, without question, because we need it to survive. But, at some point, we must take a step back and realize education is valuable in itself. It is what shapes our perceptions and attitudes about everything around us.
I wouldn’t say any degree is a waste just because the recipient isn’t now making $100K at 23 years old.
Choosing a college major is hard. It feels like a decision that will determine your life indefinitely. But, it doesn’t have to.
Many people don’t even have jobs that relate to their undergraduate degrees. There are, quite literally, a million different ways to live your life after graduation, most of which aren't dictated by what you studied, unless you want them to be.
To the people who question the validity or value of any college degree, I say this: Please, respect the life choices of others, and in turn, they should respect yours.
It is impossible make assumptions about a person’s level of current or future success based solely on one thing about him or her.
And, to anyone doubting him or herself about pursuing a particular path of study, do not let prevailing attitudes adversely influence your educational decisions.
The life you choose to live is yours. Study something that interests you — a variety of things, even.
But, don’t squander your natural desire to learn in the pursuit of what someone else believes is your “safest bet.”