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Finding the real world outside class

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MAY 07, 2015

Everyone throws around this idea that when you graduate from college, you enter the “real world.” It reinforces the idea that college is a time for training — that it is insular and protected, and that what you do here doesn’t matter right now. And to some extent, that’s true.

Most of what UC Berkeley students produce for their classes on a day-to-day basis does not matter now and is practice and skill-building for later on.

We write essays, memos and short responses to practice academic writing; we code, build, pipette projects as practice for “real” projects; we study for midterms, quizzes and finals as practice for tests of knowledge beyond college; and we slave over essays, projects and problem sets.

During my junior year, while working for The Daily Californian, I had a formative moment when I realized what it meant to be part of the “real world” and to do work for more than a grade. One day, in preparation for the next day’s lecture on higher education in California, one of my professors listed an article for required reading that I had written a few months before.

The article was about some development in the UC system’s funding for 2013, and I had written it without considering who would read it or what it would do. But at this moment, the UC Berkeley community was reading my work, engaging with it and learning from it. My contribution to the debate around a public issue was out in the world, and this professor felt all students in the class should know about it. Alternatively, other readers across the world could deride, manipulate or debate my work, and it was subject to “real world” consequences. I have never had such an experience with a term paper.

The Daily Cal was important for me because the work I did was never practice — it was a real-world contribution. These kinds of projects are empowering in a way that classes can’t be. Daily Cal articles can work to inform members of the community, tell stories and shape my community’s discourse. My Daily Cal writing was never hidden, and my writing and ideas had value. My writing informed students, faculty, residents and visitors. It did a job. My writing made news available to students.

I think many UC Berkeley students have also found this to be true, finding productive outlets outside formalized assignments and classes. Through clubs and organizations, students have found the power to make real changes in the world while they’re here, instead of merely practicing. They can do real scientific research, create real music and dance, protest real issues, build real software, put out a real magazine and help real people in need. I admire every student who has sought out these experiences not because they fill out resumes, but because they change the world.

We spend most of our time practicing for things we are already ready for. We’re UC Berkeley students, damn it — we don’t need practice.

Without practice, the 450-word article I wrote on my first day at the Daily Cal had more impact and reached more people in one day than did the hundreds of pages of research papers, analytical essays and exam answers I wrote in my four years here. My first semester at the Daily Cal taught me more about writing than I would have learned taking the R1A/B series many times over. Practice cannot make up for what the “real world” teaches.

Working as the Daily Cal’s online managing editor, I had the opportunity to solve “real world” questions, such as how to transition print newspapers onto the Internet and how to increase our website’s readership with a Millennial target demographic that is increasingly agnostic about where its news comes from. The challenges and solutions I dealt with had consequences that went beyond a letter grade or a single semester.

I am grateful for that opportunity, and I am grateful for the practice I received in my classes. Maybe I’m partly defending the decision of where to focus my energy while in college. But then I see the amazing work that is done in student clubs, organizations, research and startups. They do things — they don’t practice. When I entered UC Berkeley, I was told to write essays, go to class and study. I was told to practice. I was graded on my ability to practice.

But what no one told me is that I didn’t need to practice. I was already capable of taking action, even though I wasn’t supposed to be in the “real world” yet without a degree. The Daily Cal allowed me to take protective action earlier than graduation day, and for that, I am forever grateful. To the rest of you who are excited to finish practicing and get started in the “real world,” don’t wait: You’ve already begun, and you can start now.

Jacob Brown was the fall 2014 and spring 2015 online managing editor. He joined The Daily Californian in fall 2012 as a news reporter before becoming a news editor in summer 2013 and a web producer in fall 2013 and spring 2014. He is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in public policy.

Contact Jacob Brown at [email protected]

MAY 07, 2015