Hampshire was no shining city on a hill. At best it was a bunch of ugly buildings and spoiled kids in a cornfield in the middle of fucking nowhere. Which made less impact on me than that it seemed, on closer inspection, to be a rather normal school. Classes. Majors. Distribution requirements. I had been decieved.
I took a semester’s courseload and was extremely angry at the slowness, the shallowness, the inability to distinguish myself, the inability to *do*. But angry is at least an energetic response. Better than despair. Progress, progress – but I’d take what I could get.
Perhaps it helped that the first night of school – the first night of *orientation* – I’d lost my long-lamented flower to a beautiful Eastern European yoga instructor. We promptly moved into each other’s rooms. The fact that I was nineteen should not diminish the fact that she was nineteen. Such balms to which I am not immune!
The next semester I had talked myself into two independent studies. Those were all about scholarship, self-motivation, self-direction… and not having to go to fucking class. Over the next three years of school I would take a grand total of only five more classes – all on my own terms, all classes that I wanted to take. As a result I did incredibly well in them, graduating with a 4.0 GPA & a transcript full of excellent written evaluations.
I also took more independent studies. I’m told the college record prior to my matriculation was three independent studies, taken over a four-year Hampshire career. I took 17. May God smile and bless anyone who beats my record – and right after He does, I hope they’ll let me buy them a beer.
Life was much better. I studied so many things! I read, I wrote, I nerded the living hell out. But I forced myself to expand my horizons. Mainly because I had grown somewhat disenchanted, not with the humanities, but with the study of them. Too hard for me to challenge myself in literature – I did not know how. Too hard for me to challenge myself in writing – a second novel also didn’t get published. I took what classes I could that I hoped would help, and some did help, then or later on. But mostly I studied other things. Laboratory sciences. Economics and polisci. By the time I graduated the majority of my coursework fell into the common departmental headings economics and biology. More, really, in the space between – how well it is to have one’s interest in one thing inform one’s interest in another! So when I call myself an econ/bio major, I know the slash is as much as part of my studies as the words it separates (or connects). Still, do I feel like I could hold my own against a major in history, in english, in political science, in art history, in business management, in studio art? Yes. Indeed. I absolutely do.
I would feign claim that I could hold my own against possessors of higher degrees in those subjects. But my experiment on secondary metabolites produced by varying strains of S. Cerevisiae has been downloaded from the Arxiv more times than I care to count; my thesis on Milton-as-historiographer took 18 months, included almost two hundred sources, and ran to some three hundred pages; and over in the blacksmith’s shop I logged over a thousand hours. This not counting the three accredited college courses which I planned, taught, and evaluated by myself.
Is my degree ‘equivalent’ to any other? Who knows. What’s a degree?