When I was preparing to go to grad school, I found that I needed one class (studiously avoided during my undergrad years) as a pre-requisite before I could enter the program. I enrolled in an evening course at a local satellite campus and jumped in with enthusiasm.

As a working adult who had been through this before, my attitude toward learning was certainly different from that of many of my classmates. I didn’t know what I would face in grad school, but since that course was a pre-req, I wanted to be sure I knew the material backward and forward. I needed to start the grad school program with a solid foundation.

Most of my classmates, however, were simply present to check off a universal requirement for their undergrad studies. In many cases, the course itself didn’t have much to do with their chosen fields of study. Consequently, their level of engagement was limited to passing (at worst) or maintaining a good GPA (at best). Even knowing this, I visibly cringed the first time I heard a voice call from the back of the room, “Do we need to know this for the test?” Her presumption, of course, was that if the material wasn’t going to be on the test, she didn’t need to know it. Her participation wasn’t about actually learning; it was about passing the test.

I’ve carried that experience with me for the 16 years since I took that class. To this day, I wonder how many people walked away from that class with any practical knowledge–and there certainly was some to be had. I watch my kids sometimes take the same approach to their schoolwork. I occasionally watch colleagues and acquaintances complete tasks with little regard to the reasons for them. I wonder what people are taking away from their experiences, what they are doing with the knowledge they accumulate. Are are tucking it away for future reference? Or do they walk away upon completion? Do they “learn it for the test” and then forget it? Or do they assimilate their life experiences for future application?

I think everything eventually comes back around. Treasure your experiences, even the pre-reqs. You just never know when you’ll need them.

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