After several days last week of working on arrangements for the pandemically-delayed 50th reunion of my college graduation, I am still awash in the golden glow of nostalgia. Preparing invitations for The Class of 1970 to share their Otterbein stories in an anniversary memory book has led me to also sharing mine with my Boomer Blog readers.
I cringe at the suggestion that some people have not used their college degrees. A college education is more than an accumulated collection of courses leading to a diploma. The biology major who spends an entire career as an office manager has not wasted the time at an institution of higher learning. A college education also includes an accumulated collection of experiences impacting one’s life. I have had the great and good fortune to “use” my college courses AND experiences throughout my life. For example…
As a freshman I immediately and fortunately found a campus job: I really needed to work my way through school. In fact, I spent four years walking from the pay window in the Campus Center directly to the Treasurer’s Office. My first and least favorite job was in the cafeteria, where I learned to open huge cans of vegetables with a huge can opener. The pay-off? At pizza fundraisers for our exchange trips, I impressed students with my expert access to many a can of tomato sauce.
Thankfully, I exchanged the kitchen position for one in the audio-visual office. There I gathered firsthand knowledge of any device I could ever hope to use in my future classroom. All that equipment is now obsolete, by the way!
In the AV office I met a couple theater majors who urged me to share my 4-H sewing skills for the costuming of Brigadoon and Carousel. Observing in action the dynamic director of those musicals was quite the memorable experience, which inspired me to help my fellow GHS teachers with their plays and musicals.
I remain grateful that my speech professor required us to attend one of the season’s debates. Seeing the polished mechanics of real debaters – members of one of the nation’s top collegiate teams, no less – was an education all on its own.
My junior year as a freshman dorm counselor, besides providing free board, served as almost another education course – of the practical type – in my pursuit of a teaching certificate. The leadership and people skills I developed that year provided an invaluable kickstart to the several decades I spent with teenagers in my GHS classroom and on the go in Europe.
My original plans to major in French and spend my junior year abroad were dashed the very first week on campus: I had no idea I should have taken four years of high school French. As a dejected sophomore, I inexplicably enrolled in German to satisfy my foreign language requirement, thus making what turned out to be the decision of a lifetime.
What I experienced in southern Germany during the first term of my senior year was akin to adding a whole extra year of education to my transcript. On my way to fluency, I also completed a country girl’s bucket list: my first plane trip, first time on a train, first taxi ride, first opera (Carmen), first ballet (Swan Lake), first professional stage productions (Pinter, Brecht). There were castles and cathedrals and a sobering trip to East Berlin, too.
I attended an all-girls’ high school where I read the plays of the great German authors (Schiller, Goethe). I lived with teachers and their toddler daughter to whom I read the German version of Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever – which helped increase my practical vocabulary. I even ran into the cousin of one of my freshman counselees right there in Germany!
The extra hours in German gave me a second major along with the one in English and allowed me to have both subjects listed on my teaching certificate. My experiences in Germany that autumn inspired me to establish the German department at Graham and to initiate a German exchange program with our partner school in northern Germany. For 25 years my students and I crisscrossed the Atlantic in the name of international friendship.
I was also drawn to student governance groups, including the Student Senate and the college disciplinary committee. I helped organize elections and traditional events such as May Day and Homecoming. By far, the most significant facet of that work, however, was overall college governance in the riot-plagued year of 1970. Heading home from Germany, I unexpectedly shared a flight to Columbus with the Dean of Students, who invited me to join the newly-formed governance committee. What an impactful experience it was to participate in the creation of Otterbein’s still-functioning College Senate, featuring representation by administration, faculty, AND students.
During my final term on campus, I completed my English requirements in an advanced composition course. Over the years, I must have repeated my professor’s advice a thousand times to my English students, to my German students – and to myself: “Write in white heat! Correct errors later! Allow the ideas to flow! Write in white heat!” I have continued to heed his words for the seven years I have been writing this column for the UDC and Facebook.
My Otterbein years gave me a degree as well as a lifetime of direction and inspiration. I guess I have indeed used my college education…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.