Columns

Chaz Kelsh ’11: Learning to swim

By
Sunday, May 29, 2011

For the last four years, I have had the privilege of telling friends and family back home that I went to school with the happiest students in America. Of the many things that have been great about Brown, that has been by far the best, and I think it’s something we take for granted. We’re beyond lucky to have been part of such a vibrant, excited community, and it can be difficult while here to maintain that perspective.

It’s also easy to forget — or to deny — that most of us are eventually going to have to enter the real world. After leaving College Hill, many of us will work in an office, and our employers are likely to ask us to wake up at a single-digit hour. We’ll have to pay bills and make sure there’s money in the bank to cover them. When we go places, we won’t recognize the majority of people around us from that section freshman year. We’ll have to provide for our own gustatory needs, and when the oven decides to make that difficult, we’ll have to get the name of a good repairman. In short, we’ll need to quickly develop a host of real-world skills.

Rather than call for Brown to help educate us in these areas, though, I would suggest that we as Brown students already have opportunities available to us that help develop the kind of problem-solving skills that will be important for life after Brown. Brown is doing a terrific job at lots of things — not least educating us in academic disciplines — and it’s unfair and unrealistic to expect the University to also impart these practical skills, especially because they’re better learned on the ground.

It’s tough to imagine how such training would work, anyway. Would ECON 0820: “Principles of a Balanced Checkbook” be mandatory S/NC? And what would be the final project in LITR 1790: “Effective Email Habits”? These kinds of things are better taught in a trial-by-fire situation.

Fortunately, there are already plenty of ways for us to gain practical training. Every student-managed extracurricular — yes, that happens to include The Brown Daily Herald — puts students in the kind of sink-or-swim situation that is preparation for the brutality of the real world.

In the case of The Herald, those situations are commonplace. What questions should I ask in this interview? If I ask the wrong ones, the newspaper won’t have a story about this. How can The Herald grow revenue in a world that’s moving away from print journalism? If we don’t, there might not be a Herald someday. These kinds of questions — and finding and applying their answers — make great training for the real world.

There are plenty of other ways for students to get these experiences, too, through other extracurriculars, student employment and some independent research. Even studying abroad takes you outside your comfort zone and forces you to fend for yourself to some degree. All of these things build skills that will come in very handy, and we should take advantage of them while we have the chance.

The education that Brown does provide us is incredibly valuable, and nothing I write here is intended to disparage it. I’ve learned invaluable critical thinking skills, honed my writing, and gained plenty of subject-area knowledge that will help me both in my job and in the rest of my life. And taking a breadth of classes across all disciplines, as Brown allows us to do, definitely helps us on the road to the happiest students title. There is incredible value to a liberal arts degree.

For me, running The Herald was also much more than a practical experience. It was by far the most fulfilling part of my Brown experience. I made the closest friends I’ve ever had, learned skills I never could have learned in a classroom and laughed much more than could possibly be healthy. Even when the going got tough, it was still engaging and challenging in a new and different way. It’s exactly that feeling, I think, that drives Brown students to be the happiest in the nation. We should keep it that way.

 

 

Chaz Kelsh was managing editor of The Herald in 2010. In the fall, he will start work at Bain & Company in Boston.