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Thursday, May 14, 2015

The most important thing I learned in college

I learned a lot in college, including in a variety of courses, especially those within my major of political science. In fact, most notably, in the academic sphere, I took three courses explicitly related to anti-poverty programs and social welfare policy. I learned more about the New Deal, Great Society, and Obama-era social programs than probably anything else of academic substance. 

Beyond these issues, I became much more familiar with the political science theories that underpin smart analyses of presidential election outcomes, how to advance social change, how to write better, and even some of the science behind climate change, nuclear energy, and railroads. 

However, the most important thing I learned in college was not any specific piece of information from any of my classes. Instead, the classes themselves, the extracurricular activities I pursued, and my relationships with my friends here collectively taught me one overriding great lesson. 

The most important thing I learned in college was that you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. This is not to imply that I was a hypocrite or vapid before college but instead to say that, in the first half of college, I lost sight of my priorities, became too immersed in pettiness, and became too distracted. 

In this sense, I echo what my friend Charlie Sucher said when he said the most important thing he learned in college was the prioritization of his values. Social science research actually shows, unsurprisingly, that many individuals often profess to believe in certain values of life but do not follow through with actions to back up those words. College is a time when this discrepancy can become wide open as it is, as one playwright famously said, "the most selfish four years of your life."

For me, this gap between walking the walk and talking the talk was particularly present in the first half of college. It is easy for this to happen because of the luxuries and privileges associated with college life, especially at a place like GW where many of us, including me, are lucky to be children of very financially successful families. The impetus for laziness is all too real. 

As time passed though, and as I matured in my worldview and self-care, I learned that in order to gain respect and credibility, and to act in concert with the principles of my Christian faith, I had to adjust. I took better care of myself, read and studied more voraciously, proactively sought to be a better listener with my friends, and demonstrated attentive and arduous leadership when it was demanded in extracurricular activities.

Through it all, I made mistakes, sometimes did not live up to my words, and gave in to temptation. These errors are all too human though. They made me a better person and they forced me to reevaluate my priorities. In the second half of college, I continually strived to refocus my compass on the important notion of walking the walk, not just talking the talk. 

We have a moral obligation to ourselves and to others to live up to the values we profess to believe in in our rhetoric. Despite its natural selfishness, college -- with all of its opportunities for learning and life lessons it can teach you -- is perhaps the most important time to learn this.