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View From the Top: Learning ‘real life’ lessons

By web

Section: Features

November 18, 2011

Apart from the cold weather, our Brandeis community often reminds me of my grandparents’ gated community in Boca. Brandeis students and senior citizens seem to have Bingo, group fitness classes, guest lecturers and 5 p.m. dinners in common.

Other times, it has felt like a reality television show: Who can join the most clubs? Rack up the most majors and minors? The most Dean’s List appearances? And what about the most hookups?

Bonfires, Shabbat services and late night hangouts with friends have brought back my memories from summer camp. And anyone who has ever spent even a minute at an upstate New York resort can see the similarity between Brandeis and hotels like Kutscher’s—hotels with talent shows, large Jewish family reunions and games of Simon Says.

The one thing that Brandeis has not felt like is the “real world”—the very thing for which it is supposed to prepare me. Brandeis has not given me experience with paying rent, dealing with bosses, commuting to work or setting up bank accounts. Call me sheltered, but I still have very little experience writing checks, pumping gas and budgeting groceries. Worse yet, and even more daunting, my life plan remains a blur. I still lack a clear sense of purpose, a clear plan for navigating post-college life.

So what, then, have I gotten out of the past four years?

At the top of the list are friends. I can say with the utmost confidence that my friends from Brandeis are my friends for life. The people who I have met throughout my time at Brandeis continue to amaze me every day—their stories, passions, accomplishments and goals. I can see my closest friends and myself celebrating birthdays, holidays and even weddings together in the future.

Last year, a close friend and I spent one late night predicting our friends’ futures:

Who will be doctors, lawyers, artists, bankers and CEOs? Which couples will get married and which will live in one of those little utopian societies where the institution of marriage does not exist? Who will break the glass ceiling and who will live in a McMansion? Who will have five kids and who will adopt from overseas? Who will be a typical Jewish mother and who will be a PTA-going father? Whatever happens, I know that I will always be proud of each and every one of my friends.

If you had told me in high school that I was going to major in American Studies, I would have laughed and rolled my eyes. And if you had told me that I was also going to major in Sociology, I would have asked the inevitable, “What is Sociology?” While far from my high school fascination with physics, today, I see my studies as part of my identity. They have brought me to look at the world in a totally different way (as well as encouraged me to see 15-page papers as pieces of cake). Perhaps my biggest academic accomplishment is my acquisition of a second language. Having never taken modern Hebrew before Brandeis, I now consider myself close to fluent. My time in the classroom (and the library) has truly transformed my worldview, giving me passions and interests that I never previously knew existed.

One Friday night of my first year, I decided to venture outside Brandeis and attend the Harvard Chabad. I remember feeling underdressed and out of place, sitting under extravagant glass chandeliers and dining with fine china. During dinner, one diamond-clad Harvard student inquired, “Abby, what are your extracurricular activities?” Feeling as if I were being interviewed by Harvard Admissions, I felt inadequate. Having just entered Brandeis, I had not yet found my niche in the “extracurricular” world.

Fast-forward three years and I have. I have done things outside of the classroom that I never thought I’d be able to do. I conducted more than 90 interviews in the span of one week, orchestrated chaotic Senate meetings, planned an off-campus retreat on a tight budget and advised first-years with problems that I myself faced not too long ago. Even with no classes, my days at Brandeis would be booked minute-to-minute with meetings, workshops and advising sessions.

I know that one day, I will have successfully mastered “real life” skills—I can pick up budgeting, gas pumping and house-hunting skills anywhere. But the relationships, interests and goals that I have cultivated at Brandeis are Brandeis-specific—unique to this campy, Boca Raton-esque, reality show-like environment—an environment that has prepared me for so much more than the real world.

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