I find that the closer the time comes to leave UTD, the more fondness I feel for it. I always make fun of it. The lack of campus life, the concrete and glass buildings, etc, etc. But, now that I'm contemplating actually leaving at the end of the semester, the more I realize how important it's been.
Perhaps much of this nostalgia was triggered by recently spending time at another, much larger, campus. Who knows. Or maybe it's the idea of having entirely new professors that made me appreciate the ones I've had. I don't know. But I'm increasingly seeing how important my UTD education has been in my life.
I came in with a definite preconceived notion of how society worked and have gradually learned to question such received wisdom. I feel like I've really gained a sociological imagination. I've been taught to think through questions systematically and critically. I know others who've gone through four years of college and cannot say as much. This is not a credit to me at all. This is due to my school and my professors.
I really can now appreciate how much emphasis was placed on undergraduate teaching. In very few of my classes did we ever have a multiple choice test. Essay tests and papers were the norm. This takes a considerable time investment on the part of professors, but they did it anyway. I think I can truly say that some of the most incredibly exciting times of my education have not been in class (though classes have been consistently interesting--I actually enjoyed going to most of them, and how many people can say that about their college classes?) but while writing papers and discovering and thinking through new ideas and concepts on my own. This is when I get the most excited about academic work.
My professors have always encouraged me and supported me. They really gave me the confidence to actually think that I could apply for graduate school and make it in.
As the time to leave draws nearer, I find myself drawn to places on campus that I'd always kind of made fun of. Today, I sat and read in the student union rather than going to Quiznos*. I grabbed lunch from that little sandwich shop in Green Hall. And it felt like home. I've walked around these halls for four years. Gone to classes, gone to see professors. I walked these halls as a freshman who was just starting to get the idea that inequality existed in the world and that others had different perspectives on reality than I did. I went to class here as a sophomore as I became excited about changing the world and fighting for justice and equality. I moped around these classrooms and offices as a junior, becoming more and more depressed and cynical about the state of the world while gradually realizing that this was what I wanted to do with my life. Finally, as a senior, I took classes and waited anxiously for recommendation letters left in envelopes outside the offices of my professors. And now I walk around, appreciating, perhaps for the first time, how important this place has been to my development as a human being.
And then I feel like a silly idiot for crying about it all.
And now, I really do want to graduate. But perhaps I'll make less fun of UTD.
*Partially, this is due to the higher cost at Quiznos and my current lack of money.