I had forgotten about the signs with the colored dots that designate parking areas on campus. My own Denison parking pass, once a cerulean blue, has faded to pure white. I park at Mitchell Center and walk up the hill slowly—because, frankly, I also had forgotten how steep it is.
I live just 40 minutes away from Granville, but it has been nearly five years since I felt a need to return to Denison. What brings me back this day is my increasing passion to understand the value of education in America. I’m curious why some of us choose a liberal arts college, versus a large university or technical school. I know I’ll never understand every individual’s choice, but I’m hoping that coming back to Denison will shed some light on mine.
I make the trek down North Quad and over to Sunset Apartments, that much-coveted senior housing. I remember approaching graduation back in 2006, and while most of my friends were remorseful about leaving, I was itching to get out. I’d had enough of college. My friends, sorority sisters, even students I didn’t know, had become too familiar to me; it was like sharing a room with your sibling. Denison had prepared me for the next stage in life, and I was ready to go exploring.
After graduation, though, I found myself at a strange crossroads. I admit to being a little unsure of what my Denison education would bring me. I was told plenty of times that having a liberal arts degree was beneficial, yet many also challenged this notion. I found myself in an intellectual and emotional turmoil. Where did my liberal arts degree fit in?
I stroll through West Quad, pass Shorney Hall, and approach the Academic Quad.
Academics. I think about how we’ve come to judge our educational system too harshly and expect it to solve all of our problems. Yet, I think schooling has strayed away from its roots—providing a democratic education for its citizens. Society has created a union, a marriage of sorts, between the level of someone’s education and their economic value. Instead of being a service to all students and the community, education has become focused on accountability and being competitive in the “new global economy.” Is this all we want for our students, for our future citizens?
Sitting on the Denison library steps, I come to realize that my education means so much more than any job or post-graduate degree.
So what was it that made Denison different? In my four years here, Denison demonstrated a balance between developing the individual and enhancing the larger community. Here, education was a mix of life experience with classroom experience. The combination created what the college’s mission statement described as “transformative.”
And, indeed, looking back, it was. Whether through my experiences in an English seminar on haunted houses, or those during sorority recruitment, Denison was charged with developing me—the individual, and the community I lived in—to the best of its ability. And indeed, looking back, it did.
I leave the library, walk to East Quad and then back down to Piper Stadium and my car. Much has changed at Denison in those five years since I left campus. But Denison’s commitment to its community has not. Denison seeks to give its students the best education, intellectually and emotionally, always keeping in mind that its students would go into the world as citizens, ready to make a difference.
My experiences at a liberal arts college set me on the path I’m on today, but what I have also come to realize is that my experience is not unique, nor is it the path that is best for everyone. Education, no matter where it is from, is invaluable. But make no mistake, I believe education’s value lies not in degree you receive, or the job you land, or the graduate school you attend afterward. The value of education lies in what it does for individuals and the community.
Idealist that I am, I drive away from campus knowing that Denison offered me more than an opportunity to receive schooling. It gave me hope and possibility.
Shannon McLoughlin Morrison ’06 is pursuing a doctorate in philosophy of education at Ohio State University.