Stories including New Paltz

The (Non-Academic) Value of a Vassar Education

When I first arrived at Vassar in August of 2006, I felt certain that my primary focus in college should be on academics. After all, why did we come here other than to get the best education possible? I had no interest in running for student government, becoming a leader in any extracurricular group or even getting a campus job. I knew my parents were spending $200,000 to put me through college, and they rightfully expected me to concentrate on school.

What I’ve learned during my time here, however, is that academics represent but one component-albeit an important one-of a Vassar education. Other important pieces of the puzzle include things I’m quite proud of, like growing as a person and getting involved with worthwhile causes, and things I’m a little less proud of, like dancing at Matthew’s Mug until 2 a.m. and going home to eat an entire Napoli’s pizza by myself. (Note to underclassmen: Eating a whole pizza in the middle of the night by yourself is a bad idea.)

Yet perhaps most importantly, my Vassar education has taught me that my ability to make a difference in the world and in people’s lives is limitless.

For me, this realization came after I discovered a group called ACT OUT during my freshman year. The organization, still in its infancy, was composed of several young political activists seeking to end LGBTQ discrimination. That year I participated in two sit-ins at the New York City military recruitment center to protest “don’t ask don’t tell.” At the second sit-in, six Vassar students told the recruiters that they wouldn’t leave until Curt Peterson, an openly gay man, could enlist in the military. They were arrested for engaging in this courageous act of civil disobedience. I was immediately hooked.

I had never intended to seek an official leadership position in the group. But in the spring of my junior year I went to Washington, D.C. to intern with the Human Rights Campaign, and for the first time I felt like I could do anything. After returning to Vassar, I channeled all of my energy into being president of ACT OUT. As it turns out, we really could do anything. With the help of my amazing co-president and our dedicated Executive Board members, ACT OUT chartered two buses and brought over 100 students to the National Equality March last fall. We raised $600 for a LGBTQ homeless youth shelter in New York City. We attended a marriage equality rally in New Paltz. We single-handedly planned and organized a Congressional Lobby Day to support three pieces of federal legislation. And, most impressively to me, we convinced two members of Congress to co-sponsor a bill that would help prevent anti-LGBTQ bullying in public schools. We had indeed made a difference in the world, regardless of how small that difference might be.

Without diminishing the importance of schoolwork, I would say that the best advice I have for students is to take an active role in Vassar’s non-academic student life. During these four years, we are given almost entirely free reign in our extracurricular activities. We have the opportunity to work with low-income children in local schools, to support social and political issues we care deeply about, to help get-out-the-vote in Poughkeepsie during election years, to food-drive for local homeless shelters and to do any number of other things that suit our interests. To all students, I urge you to join an organization. Get involved with its leadership. Brainstorm new ideas. You’ll be surprised with what you’re able to accomplish during your time here.

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