I wonder what spurred me on to become a well-rounded student. Perhaps it was Rory of “Gilmore Girls” with her impeccable academics, respectable extracurriculars, devoted interests and her repetitive drama that infatuated me? Or maybe it was the Japanese environment of my youth, where my classmates would often go to cram school, or “kumon,” to learn a second language or, possibly, to construct fighting robots on the side. Whatever the influences, I feverishly sought this perfect status in high school.
Yet, as a college student, I find myself calmly walking toward this status, while adhering to a different notion of a well-rounded student. A different notion that happily inspires me to pursue what I love, rather than oppressively influencing me.
Picture this: a frowning student in high school shuffling around with a crammed messenger satchel and heavy bags under her eyes that could act as additional storage for her pesky statistics textbooks. Her thoughts reduced to a daily planner. Her breakfast possibly the leftover chow mein from a four-hour shift the night before. In a disturbed nutshell powered by Starbucks Frappuccinos and milk tea bobas, this was high school me.
Attending a rich high school associated with Ivy League universities (and, unfortunately, Ryan Sheckler) seemed to induce a culture of students seeking to stand out not only to college applicant reviewers, but also to each other. Sucked in, I felt inadequate being in a rudimentary math class or spending my time not volunteering at a hospital. My drive to learn morphed into wanting to prove to others I was not dumb. For most of high school, I convinced myself I took that hated AP biology class or I volunteered at that fight cancer rally because I wanted to attend an Ivy League. I was shaping and molding myself as that well-rounded student I thought my peers would admire and colleges would accept.
And I am not the only one who has done this.
Have you ever asked yourself what your dream graduate school would like to see on your application? Have you had an odd obligation that you should be doing more than just studying for your classes? Usually, these questions are asked with an insecurity: that you are not the best that you can be. This insecurity is only problematic when you compare yourself to others or try to meet another’s standards, because it just motivates you to become someone you are not. And it’s tiring to be someone else.
Upon high school graduation, I snapped out of my sugar-fueled daze. I realized I did not know myself. I was some odd stranger who did not read the latest Harry Potter installment (a high sin) in favor of doing biology homework. I hate biology, yet I wasted away in a zero period class due to thinking it upped my resume game. Being a well-rounded student was a goal I could never accomplish.
Now, I am not saying it’s impossible or even a stupid goal. I have an awestruck respect for anyone who loves to engage with everything. During my first year at UCR, I met numerous students, like my friend who double-majored and led an education organization. He, and other students, taught me my first major life lesson in college: Well-rounded doesn’t mean you do a bunch of stuff to be outstanding to others. You do a bunch of stuff because you’re passionate about it. I can never be a typical well-rounded student, because I don’t love everything.
So I took on a different workload. I gave up my apron at a Chinese restaurant to try my hand at tutoring. I left the beakers in favor of penning essays. I indulged in Faulkner and Nabokov, leaving my copies of Greek epics to die with dust. I still have nights when I mirror my old high school self (yet I have matured from a sugar high to caffeine high) due to engaging with various activities. However, pursuing what I enjoy has led me to know myself better than I have in years. I understand that our early 20s are meant to be this sort of lost period, where we ask existential questions like, “What am I doing with my life,” or “Who am I?” By pursuing what I love to do instead of stressing over what I should do, I’ve thus been able to avert myself from this internal crisis. I confidently know I wish to teach after college.
Beyond cliche usings on life, being passionately well-rounded should be the essence of a college education. Getting your degree should not merely be a sign that you are ready for employment. It should be a testament to your dedication to better yourself in what you love. I did not go to college to build up a resume. I came to be a well-rounded me. And I hope you do too.