Lessons from an Open House
Last month, my home department at the Ateneo, the Department of Communication, held its annual Open House for prospective freshmen. The Open House is a weekend event (virtual in recent years) that demonstrates to would-be students what exactly it means to work toward a communication degree.
We bring in alumni to talk about their experiences in college and how these helped inform their work, and then we allow students to ask questions that will help them decide whether they want to enroll at Ateneo. The questions we get often have to do with what classes the students expect to take, the organizations they can join, grades they have to maintain to stay in school. Once, we had a parent ask what job their son would get after graduation.
This year, we had two rather interesting questions. Did students have to have specific equipment before coming into the program? Did they have to learn or possess specific trades? By trades, the inquiring student meant skills, like photography and graphic design.
The department chair requested that I answer the question. At that very moment, I remembered something nagging at the back of my head that I’d always wanted to write about: how some students say that college is where they want to learn new things, but where they often expect to be applauded for staying in their comfort zones.
I came face to face with this paradox years ago, before the pandemic, in an exchange online. An incoming Atenean asked for recommendations on PE subjects to take. A senior suggested swimming, to which the new student replied, “But I know nothing about swimming, so why should I take that?”
I wish I had responded to the thread with, “That’s why you’re taking swimming: so you can learn something new!” It was both surprising and bewildering to encounter a student who was coming to college with the idea that they would attend four years of review classes, repeat old habits, and be graded on existing skills.
I met a variant of this mentality in research class, where a student bristled at my edits on her review of related literature. She had always taken pride in being a good writer, she said, and could not understand what she had done wrong. I pointed out every single error in her work: convoluted sentences, excessive use of pronouns, passive sentences that made her work both indirect and boring to read. She did not like my corrections (though she did edit her work) and was resentful for a greater part of the semester. Her reticence was emotionally draining because it appeared as though she expected high school and college to exist on a continuum of a never-ending cycle of tests on the same topic.
I had all these in my head that weekend, as I spoke to the 70 students who sat in the Zoom room for our Open House. My response was probably rambling across several ideas at once, but its spirit was this.
New tools, like our cameras, laptops, and software, will one day be obsolete. We can’t require students to bring in equipment that won’t be needed one day. The skills that we demand are timeless, unbound by the technologies of one’s time.
The highest task of a university is to produce new knowledge. As students, you are scholars: you need to ask questions constantly, do good systematic research to answer those questions, and contribute to the body of knowledge in your chosen field.
What you will need is the eagerness to keep on learning. You have to be open to knowing new things, which means you have to be open to making mistakes, to be told that what you once thought was right is actually wrong, to accept criticism.
Your greatest tools are critical thinking and joyful creativity. Take risks, but always take responsibility for your work. You are an adult. You are in charge of your learning.
If you rely on technology to be creative, then it’s easy to blame technology when you don’t succeed. It’s harder to admit that you need to keep improving yourself. You, therefore, need the emotional and intellectual capacity to recognize that you are imperfect, that every project is a work in progress.
Read. Listen. Enjoy every word. You will never know where new knowledge will take you.
Have sincere humility in all things. Being wrong does not make you hopeless. Being in the majority does not make you right.
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