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Learning at its Best

College, Passion, and the Afterlife

I’ve always been good at things.  I’ve always been in the top of my class.  Even in elementary school, I fill my afternoons with extra curricular activities.  I’m logical.  I’m creative.   But, mostly importantly, I’m passionate.  I have a huge space inside of myself that feels it can only be filled through a combination of film and social justice.  Well, at least I thought that it was important, until I graduated from college.

I can hear the story of a person and, on my own, make a film about it.  But instead, I’m an intern at an amazing film program and I spend my days writing thank you notes and making copies.  Here I am, nearly three years after graduating college and I still work at the same coffee shop that I did when I was 17.  I’m a documentary filmmaker and, while I know that I am good at it, I still feel like I can’t apply for a video production job for fear that an employer won’t think I have the proper skills.  The foundation and passion is already there, but in a market where you need 5 years experience to get a job, I’m afraid that I’m just not good enough.

I remember a fight I had with my mother my sophomore year of college.  I felt like I was trapped, that I was wasting my time.  I was angry and I didn’t understand what all this time and dedication was really for.  What was I really learning?

“I’m never going to remember any of this!  I spent weeks learning it, hours cramming for test only to forget it all moments later!” I said.

I’m sure my mother combated me with something along the lines of how even though I wasn’t learning facts in the long run, I was learning how to think.  I was learning a process of reasoning and expanding my views.

“It’s just two more years,” she would say in an attempt to comfort me.

I specifically remember being most frustrated at a lack of freedom within my university’s system.  You must take this, you have to learn about that!  Two Math classes, a Science class, some History, some English, hardly any Art, and hardly any say.  I understood it for the students who felt like they weren’t sure what direction they wanted to go in, but I have never been a person without direction.  I entered college with a path and not one required course helped to change or steer me.  In fact, it only took away from time that I could have spent getting to work with amazing professors who shared my passions and had skills I didn’t.

Why wasn’t I allowed to make more decisions about the courses I wanted to take?  Why was I forced to feel trapped in subjects I had little interest in (and, as a result, put little effort into) when I could have been doing something I felt passionate about?  Is there truth in the idea that a well-rounded, educated person is the best person?

As I sit here at the coffee shop I just spent 8 hours slinging lattes in, I can’t help but wonder if I would have been in the same place I am right now (poor and disheartened) had I been given more choice in my education.

About aliciarice

I spent a year working with Khon Kaen Education Initiative, an alternative education program in Northeastern Thailand. I have a B.A. in Communication with an emphasis in video production. My main interests is documentary film making.


18 thoughts on “College, Passion, and the Afterlife

  1. Margaret Mead’s (Sociologist) grandmother said she wanted her to have a good education, so he took her out of school. Albert Einstein was pulled out of school as a failure, his mother gave him a violin and bogarded him into college and the rest is history. Newton did his best work, even gravity, while the black plague shut down the universities.

    You are only beginning. You can start your career by developing a film of my book. “Quashing the Rhetoric of Reform”. Go independent and just do it!

    Although not at University level, the problems are the same. Am sure you can identify with it.


    Posted by Cap Lee | September 1, 2011, 8:44 pm
  2. I think this sums up our generation…. one that is often called”over-educated” and under experienced….

    I been thinking a lot about how college education needs to be transformed before we can transform k-12.

    I believe everyone should have an opportunity for higher education, but I am not sure I would push everyone in to what I think is a very outdated and broken system… that should be more passion and project driven, giving us both the time and space to experiment, discover and participate in the real world, not just the academic world.

    I see a more mobile, inquiry and praxis driven system that helps you to find and develop your talents and skills instead of just rounding you out.

    Thanks for sharing this… I would recommend Steve’s piece on doing away with transcripts!


    Posted by dloitz | September 1, 2011, 10:32 pm
    • It’s true! There’s this movement to start giving more choices and decisions to kids in the K-12 system and to empower our youth, but adults aren’t even really allowed to make their own educational decisions. Seems a little backwards to me…

      Posted by aliciarice | September 1, 2011, 11:43 pm
  3. This is something I’ve dreamed of for years. Letting kids work and learn around things they are already interested in or fascinated by. So much more experience and time would be gained! Our high schools are a joke for a large majority of the kids there, yet they must stay or be labeled a dropout.

    Just think if the kids interested in journalism spent their time writing, working with journalists, learning how that business runs. This is much like lots of the computer geniuses in our time, like Steve Jobs, did, working on his own dreams, ideas and growing, learning, improving.

    Apprenticeship was a highly regarded way to learn for so many years. I rather wish we could bring it back. 🙂

    Posted by Paula Lee Bright | September 1, 2011, 11:22 pm
    • I do know of Big Picture Schools, which allow kids to do this. They’re given the opportunity to search out what they want, work with the same adviser for all 4 years, and have to work with professionals two days a week. In the end, they’re able to create a project based on their area of interest. These schools tend to be community centers as well. Very impressive stuff!

      I can’t remember where it is, but I believe somewhere in Europe or Asia (I really can’t remember) where kids spent the morning in schools, and then the rest of the day is spent working.

      To me internships should be a shorter form of apprenticeships. It’s a chance to go into the real life world and gain experience from people who have it. But it seems like it’s mostly just a resume booster. Get coffee and the big firm will say that you worked for them and it’ll be easier for you to get a job. This internship I have now, I’m not learning anything! I don’t need to learn how to make copies, and having some impressive company let me work for them is not enough of an incentive for me to (what feels like) waste my time. I’d much rather keep searching for a small company that’ll actually teach me!

      Posted by aliciarice | September 1, 2011, 11:51 pm
  4. Alicia, I think you are at the cutting edge…of something. Something new. I felt that way in the 60’s when we protested the war…I know it may not seem relevant to you. However, my two children just graduated college, too, and I feel miserable for their prospects. It’s SO frustrating to be unrewarded for your passions. I would say, follow them anyway because you will get more value from them than money (at least right now?). What else can we do?

    Posted by Elly Faden | September 2, 2011, 12:01 am
    • Right after I posted this, I actually found and article about recent graduates embracing their lack of careers:

      It really is kind of a double edged sword. On the one side, I don’t have a start in my career yet and I don’t know when it’ll happen. On the other side, I don’t have to go to an office for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week! And apparently, I’m no the only one who’s feeling this way.

      And I actually feel pretty lucky because I’ve gotten a chance to explore myself. I got to live in Thailand for a year and do amazing things. I might not have gotten paid for it, but I got to make a documentary about an amazing homeless man who has now become clean and sober and is living in a home. I’m constantly learning more about myself.

      Of course, I also have a lot of stress, all about money. $10 an hour is tough.

      Posted by aliciarice | September 2, 2011, 12:41 am
      • I was very lucky – from the age of 17 – 27, I totally immersed myself in fine arts – drawing, painting. Nothing else mattered! I was able to dwell in my passion for an entire decade. HOWEVER, I got a very high-paying job out of college. So, your generation has to work on that problem….I see a very important documentary film emerging….oh, Thailand, how neat!

        Posted by Elly Faden | September 2, 2011, 1:39 am
  5. I love your perspective. There is nothing wrong with rebelling against the apparent meaninglessness of school. I suspect that were a candid survey conducted, many ‘well-educated’ persons would express a degree of regred for not having followed their inner voice (or whatever vestige of it that remained alive inside themsevles after being ground through the ‘education system).

    Posted by Brent Snavely | September 2, 2011, 7:33 am
    • I sent this article to my mom. When she read it, she told me she felt sad. That she had been trying to do something good for me by allowing me to go to college (she works at the University I went to, so it was free). She wanted so badly for her kids to do better than she did. So for me, I almost feel wrong in not being appreciative of my opportunity. And, of course, I wouldn’t take any of it back because it has all lead to where/who I am now. But I think it’s a guilt that’s felt by a lot of people my age, and it keeps them from following that inner voice.

      Posted by aliciarice | September 3, 2011, 12:01 pm
  6. I will hope and trust that your stories will find the people who are ready to hire you.

    I went to a college through which I was able to disregard prerequisites and requirements. I kept to the path of reading and writing English and Spanish-language literature – the same path I loved in high school, where I was school-successful. So I’ll also trust that your curiosity will take you places that my choices did not given how narrowly focused I chose to be.

    I learned about HourSchool this week, and when I hear stories like yours, Alicia, I wonder how far off we are from routinely enabling and compensating artists and artisans like you to become community teachers. What would you think of that role?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | September 2, 2011, 4:23 pm
    • I think it’s a fine line. I understand the reason that liberal arts makes you take so many different types of courses (being well-rounded, learning about something you might not have wanted to). And truthfully, one of the most interesting courses I took was Gender in Early Christianity, which I thought I would hate. And, when I think about it, it’s hard to tell the difference between some classes that were bad because of the subject matter and some that were bad because of the professors. But, for whatever reason, if we find ourselves in a course we don’t like, why does it have to be so difficult/looked down on to drop it? Shouldn’t it be a sign that we’re not going to take things for face value? Shouldn’t it mean that we know ourselves well enough not to put ourselves in situations we won’t like?

      That looks like a really interesting program! I wish there was more going on with it in my city. Maybe it’ll have to be me that makes that happen. My challenge at this point is now being more proactive. It’s telling myself that even though I don’t have the experience upfront, that I am capable and shouldn’t be afraid to take some risks when it comes to my career.

      Posted by aliciarice | September 3, 2011, 12:12 pm
  7. I have a friend interested in designing a school that is aligned to what you wish you had been able to experience. I agree with you wholeheartedly and also wish I had the freedom to explore, learn, and work with mentors across my education. The rigidity is stifling.

    How would you like your career to blossom? What would it look like in full-swing?

    Posted by Kristine | September 4, 2011, 5:09 pm
    • Well, I’ve actually taken a big career step recently and quit my coffee shop job and bought a ticket to Thailand to film a documentary. It’s incredibly scary and I’m pretty sure I spend 90% of my days thinking about money, but I have a feeling it’ll be worth it.

      I was lucky enough to get introduced to a seasoned documentary filmmaker who agreed to take me under her wing a bit. I did an internship with her (a real one, where I learned how to do things and she mentored me as well) for a couple of months, until she decided to start paying me! Her support helped me to realize that I CAN start to make my career dreams come true. I wish others could have the same experience.

      It’s hard to say exactly what I’d like my career to look like. I do know that I want documentary to be a part of it, and I do know that I want social justice and education to be a part of it. I would love just to be a documentary filmmaker and get the chance to tell stories to people, but it’s not an easy road to take. I think some kind of job where I’d get to work with a non profit as a filmmaker, or creating some kind of program that utilizes film. I think using film to work with kids (maybe teaching them film) would also be amazing.

      So, while I don’t know what I want my career future to bring, I do know that I won’t settle for less for very long.

      Posted by aliciarice | June 6, 2012, 4:05 pm
  8. I have to admit that I was one of those students entering college who had no clue what they wanted to do. I even went to a liberal arts college because my parents thought that I would receive a “well-rounded” education that would help me decide what I wanted to do. Because I had not declared a major I was undecided, and basically took general-education classes. I agree there were some classes I could have done without but then there were a few I would never have chosen on my own that I ended up loving. I was in a completely different situation than yours but I can definitely see your side. If I had known exactly what I wanted to do, I would not have wanted to waste my time or money on a course that wasn’t relevant to that subject. I loved your post, it’s always interesting to hear a new perspective on an issue.

    Posted by Audrey | September 4, 2011, 5:54 pm
    • I definitely had classes that surprised me. My Gender in Early Christianity class, which I thought would be a snooze, was one of the most interesting classes I ever took! I ended up in the class a week after the quarter had started, as I didn’t enjoy the professor of the Maya Spirituality class that I did think I would like, and it was the last class left. Of course, much of my love of it was based on how passionate the professor was. She took the Old Testament and made it come to life. I wish that I had gotten a chance to take more classes like hers while in school, instead of being stuck in math classes that I did the bare minimum for.

      It really is interesting how different each student is, both in where they are and what they need. I wish there could be a system that allowed for students to have the freedom they need. I’m tempted to say that “real life” experience is the closest that we can get, but it doesn’t seem like our society is currently set up in a way that would allow that. Who knows, with as much debt as students are leaving college with partnered with the fact they’re not getting jobs, maybe higher education as the “norm” will start to change!

      Posted by aliciarice | June 6, 2012, 3:58 pm


  1. Pingback: College, Passion, and the Afterlife | Cooperative Catalyst | - September 1, 2011

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