Reflections on college education

Graduation time brings about a period of reflection among us students. The commencement speeches reminisce about the collegiate experience, newly minted alumni deliver parting remarks to the institutions, colleagues and friends they now depart from, and all the while summer looms, and my mind wanders through collective experiences to discover and rediscover years now past.

Isaac Asimov, who died in 1992, said, “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”


I’m not sure if that’s true, but I can say that society in general is gathering knowledge faster now than Asimov saw in his lifetime.

That makes me worry about our collective wisdom.

Has your time in college made you wise? Is your understanding of your world nuanced by perspective and contemplation? Do you feel that when you stumble on new knowledge, it results in new wisdom?

We are all young, we are all dumb, and we are all capable of learning more. I can say with some certainty, wisdom is an elusive goal for every soul from Einstein to Michael Kelso. Each time I think I’m close to finally understanding a subject, I find the sum of what I know wouldn’t fill a teacup.

Sounds bleak right? It can be, from a certain perspective. But college has shown me new perspectives, and a secret.

This secret soothed my dissatisfaction with the powerlessness of being financially paralyzed, subject to the world the previous generation created, and terrified of failing to make better one.

The secret is to learn to love the process of learning.

Before the imaginary jeers of ‘NEEEERD’ start flying towards my head, allow me a moment.

The key word is process. It can be easy to term the world in binary, in yes and no, in black and white. But life rarely is so simple. We cannot simply find wisdom, like discovering a forgotten twenty in a back pocket. Nor can wisdom be accomplished using a blueprint, with a college degree, x-amount of books read, y-amount of data remembered.

By fostering an enjoyment for processing new information and learning new things, you can truly find joy for a lifetime, because you will never be finished. It’s like a bottomless pit of food you will continually be satisfied by, because addiction to the feeling of discovery, of learning by your own creative understanding of the world, generates a unique satisfaction. This satisfaction doesn’t require excessive material possessions, or approval from peers.


When I say learning things, that doesn’t mean spending life behind textbooks. It’s an intrinsic process, meaning inside yourself. You can sit on the couch and learn. You can work your job and still learn. You can surf the internet and still learn.

The point is to use your mind, to think critically about everything around you.

The riot last year is one example that comes to mind. I attended the event and ran away when the police showed up. In the immediate aftermath I thought the police were the ones infringing on my freedoms and casual fun. But looking back and examining how the students fun affected the community as a whole, the event lost its innocence in my mind. There were neighbors who lost sleep, police hit with flying bottles, the national news coverage shifting the reputation of the university, the clean-up crew the next morning– all these parties were negatively affected, making me question my involvement with events like this in the future.

That kind of thinking helps us grow as students, as citizens, and as people. It is our ability to discern perspective, to think complexly, that makes us educated people, not the certificate you get handed on a stage.

Zack Burley can be reached at