My Degree

Most life long decisions seem to happen in coffee shops. The first tattoo I got took me 15 minutes after an Americano, moving to Peru took an hour. The largest shift in my life happened because of a chance encounter with an ASU alum at a Starbucks. Someone who, if sitting right in front of me, I wouldn’t recognize in the slightest. One quip flew me to Arizona:

“You can do anything there.” 

It hooked me. College was never about classes for me – it was about the communities to build and people to meet. I sold the decision to my friends like a kid convincing his parents to go to Disney World. “It’s a literal sandbox”. I had never been to Arizona before; at that point, I assumed it had more of a Tatooine vibe than poorly irrigated Los Angeles. Two friends uprooted their college plans and joined me. 

As an economics major, life was about opportunity cost. I acted on the rationale of “greater than 3.5 cumulative GPA = too much time studying.” I graduated Cum laude with Honors at exactly 3.5, spending the other .5 on organizations and life. More than the classroom, I learned from running and growing organizations: helping people. 

One of the organizations was the Undergraduate Student Government (USG). We had an event with a few state representatives after they cut funding for education. We hoped to have a discussion and help the student body understand behind their reasons for the cuts. One representative jarred the room, saying something to the effect of:

“The reality of the situation is that 83% of students will never use their degree. The only people who use their degrees are mechanical and electrical engineers. We aren’t going to waste money on Women’s Studies.”

An… interesting point. My first thought, as a sophomore economics major, was, “Are you 7 years old?”, instead of asking if an economics major needs to be an economist to contribute to society. 

Two years later, I graduated with a degree in Supply Chain management with my best friend, Emily. Walking out of the graduation ceremony together, we saw one of our favorite professors. He, naturally, asked what we were doing next in life.

Emily, with deserved enthusiasm, said, “Working for Apple’s procurement team in San Francisco”. He beamed with pride. “Wow, one of my students, off to work at one of the best companies in the entire world. I am so proud of you, I could cry”, he said, with his eyes. Then, he turned to me.

“Uhhh, teaching English in Peru, actually!”

“Oh! Wow. That’s… different!” 

You can argue that an economics major doesn’t need to be an economist to use their degree. It is much harder to convince people that a supply chain major working as a writer and English teacher is on track.

But the degree isn’t what I went for in the first place. What I learned over those four years acts as the foundation for greater success. Personal successes that I defined, that aren’t measured by income but by capability. Moving to Arizona was the first step in buying freedom from fear, something purchased with experience. I’ve turned that base into the luxury of a second language and the ability to move to any country in the world within 24 hours. Learning, thinking, building, and challenging myself were all skills I refined through the university.

There’s an aura of waste that permeates from the past into the present and future. Not only in education, but in all aspects of life. But any piece of the past can be a tool to form the future – it is our decision as conscious actors how to harness that power. Decide, learn from the decision where you can, but then be done. Tomorrow bears new opportunity.

I could just be rationalizing past decisions to make myself feel better, agreed, 100%. But the other rational put Arizona as the 3rd worst public school system in the country. There’s more value in a degree than the letterhead on the piece of paper. 

Thanks for taking a sip,
Alejandro

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