The College Experience
Don’t skip that poetry conference or that CEO’s presentation in favor of Netflix; you’ll never have access to these opportunities for FREE ever again!
By Michelle Criqui, James Madison University
From the back of the room, I watched as two men walked in and set down their things.
One wore a sleek suit with a blue tie, his hair gelled, shoes shined. The other was in a button-down with khakis, letting his beard grow out. My professor shook each of their hands, and then turned to face the classroom filled with English majors like myself.
“Thank you all for coming out tonight,” he said. “I know a lot of you aren’t sure yet what you’d like to do after graduation. But contrary to popular belief, the English major opens up so many different paths.”
From there, he introduced the two men to the class: Joe, in the suit, was the CEO of a company; Henry, in the button-down, was a television writer and author. Both had graduated with an English degree from my university, and they had been invited back as guest speakers to share their insight and wisdom about life and career options after graduation.
I left that classroom later that night feeling as though I could do anything. I’d been required to attend the presentation by my professor, and honestly, I walked into the room at the beginning of the night wishing I could be at my dorm, watching another episode of “Parks and Recreation.”
But it was within that hour of hearing useful advice from people who had graduated before me, who were beginning to turn their dreams into careers, that I realized just how important guest speakers were and how I shouldn’t continue to take opportunities like that for granted.
Every year, many universities across the country invite a variety of guest speakers from a wide array of backgrounds and career paths to speak about topics of interest to both them and the student body. Some are specific to certain programs, but others are open to everyone, discussing important issues such as climate change, how the state of the economy will affect getting a job after graduation and the impact of maintaining proper nutrition and self-care, even on a Ramen noodle diet.
Many schools also host workshops and conferences, inviting an assortment of alumni and other people who have become successful in their fields to present and teach. My university hosts an annual poetry conference called Furious Flower, inviting famed poets to read their work and discuss the importance of poetry in the world today. This year, they held a tribute to Maya Angelou, celebrating her legacy through words and song.
Again, I would not have attended that conference if it weren’t for extra credit given out by one of my professors because, at the time, I thought I was too busy to go out and see guest speakers that my school brought in. Looking back as a senior, I know that these opportunities are golden. How often will you get to attend a free poetry conference outside of college? Or listen to an acclaimed researcher with a doctorate present his findings on the population of a species you didn’t even know was becoming endangered?
The best part is that these events are often free, paid for by your university and set up for your benefit.
The worst is that they’re often ignored—that is, unless they’re a class requirement. It’s easy to think that you have better or more interesting things to do, especially on a Thursday night. Time in college is limited, so why spend it in yet another classroom or conference room when you don’t have to?
But it’s just that—your time in college, especially as an undergrad, is so, so limited. Why not take advantage of all the opportunities it presents while you still have the chance? The insight you gain from listening to a guest speaker, attending a major-specific workshop or even hearing beautifully nuanced poetry at an expo will likely impact you both as a person and in your future career path, even if it’s just in a small way.
So the next time you hear about an opportunity to see a guest speaker at your university, think twice before passing it up. It just might give you the inspiration to try a different path—or to hold steady on the one you’re on. It might also provide you with the chance to broaden your horizons and gain knowledge on a variety of topics about which you might not have been familiar. Either way, these events are a key part of the college experience and definitely should not be taken for granted.