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A degree isn’t the only thing college offers

Call it optimism or the need for some brain activity after watching hours of America’s Next Top Model over the break, but I’m actually excited about the beginning of a new semester.

Certainly, many students don’t share this desire to “get up and at ’em” for classes. In fact, I’m normally among those who hold a great amount of contempt for returning to school.

It might be easier for me to get excited about coming back this semester because I only have one semester left until graduation. That proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is finally shining brightly. But during that brief yet seemingly never-ending stay in college, many experience a type of growth they do not notice. During this time of change, life lessons that have already been learned over and over finally begin to sink in.

The first time I received a “C” in a course at USF, I cried my little eyes out, partly because of disappointment in myself and partly because I feared losing my scholarship. As a sophomore, I saw this “C” in American National Government not just as a grade, but a reflection of my self worth. In my eyes, I wasn’t adequate in some way because of the grade. In the quest for perfection, it can be easy for students to forget they are worth more than the grades on their transcripts.

When last fall’s grades came in, a “C” was among them. I didn’t cry this time – I cursed a couple times and then let it go. Not because I was apathetic about my grades, but because I knew there was nothing else that could be done. Getting emotional wasn’t going to change the “C” to an “A.”

It is the sum of moments such as these – and how one reacts to them – that defines the growth students experience during their college careers. It’s looking to one’s left and right at orientation after being told that only one person out of these three will graduate – and then instead of getting scared, becoming more determined to be that one. It’s sharing a traditional-style bathroom in a residence hall with 30 girls who are practically strangers and grabbing one of their hair clumps out of the shower drain – and not freaking out about it.

It’s about overcoming the struggle to stay awake during a dry, boring lecture when falling asleep face first on the desk seems much more inviting. It’s about loving friends for who they truly are and not judging them based on their behaviors after they’ve consumed too much alcohol. Or maybe it’s about staying up all night as a freshman to finish a paper the night before it’s due – a paper that could have been done at any other point in the semester – and then doing the exact same thing as a senior. Hey, some things never change.

And finally, it’s about sacrifice. Instead going out on the weekends with friends and roommates, working for a paycheck takes precedence for those working to put themselves through school. Students who have to do this may feel as if they have missed out, yet it shows a great deal of character – they gave up their social life to finance their education and did what needed to be done.

Though these moments and experiences may seem small and insignificant, they shape a student over time, creating a vast difference between the person who came to USF four years ago and the person who’s preparing to graduate. As many self-help gurus have emphasized, it is the small actions and experiences – good and bad – that matter most. Though it may be the last semester for many, it’s not too late to find joy in the small happenings of college. It’s also not too late to realize that what is learned outside the classroom is just as important – if not more important – than what is learned inside the classroom.

So as members of the class of 2007 are quickly reaching graduation time, scrambling to compile all of their “big” achievements – internships, awards and leadership roles – in order to bolster their resumes, may they remember that these things, great as they may be, do not determine their value. Worth is not measured in how many trophies and accolades one racks up, but in how many lives they have touched.

Amanda Whitsitt is a senior majoring in mass communications.