I attempted to go to college more than once. The first time I was too young and immature to make sound choices…read “The Gasthaus.” The second time I ran out of money and joined the army. The third time I had to quit to support my family. The fourth time was the charm because the VA supported me while I got my B.A. in Computer Science, Social Science, and Writing. For this, I attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia.
Some of you may have heard of Evergreen. A few famous people graduated from the school like Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons), Michael Richards (from Seinfeld), and Macklemore (the Rapper) to name just a few. Evergreen is constantly appearing on top lists for Liberal Arts Colleges in our country and seems to be well-respected everywhere…except in Olympia.
In Olympia, a lot of jokes are made about Evergreen, even though a good number of residents have attended the school. It’s said that you can attend Evergreen, make baskets, and graduate. Not entirely true (the graduation part) but they do have a couple Native American classes where you learn to make baskets…it’s part of learning their culture. I have to admit, however, that I saw some real slackers graduate and wondered how they did it. I also met some of the most productive people I know who graduated from Evergreen.
One of the things that makes Evergreen unique is that there are no grades. You cannot have a grade point average and that confuses people, especially prospective employers who are not familiar with Evergreen. Instead of grades, you have evaluations. Each class finishes with a self-evaluation, a class evaluation, and a faculty evaluation. By the time you graduate, your transcript can be well over 20 pages long. Instead of reading that you got an “A” in Discrete Mathematics, you read an entire page of what you did, what you learned, and what you can actually do. I think this is a much better document for a prospective employer to read.
Another thing about Evergreen is its quirkiness. Some of the commonality of some of the younger students is that they wished they had lived through the 60s. They are wannabe hippies that actually try to live the hippy lifestyle…but with electronics. There are more colored hairstyles at that school than anywhere else I’ve ever seen. Also, a lot of armpit and leg hair. Like I said, a hippy college.
The ultimate quirkiness is the mascot. Other schools use tough sounding mascots like Trojans, Wolverines, Bears, Lions, etc. Evergreen’s mascot is something most of you have never heard of…the Geoduck (pronounced Gooey-duck). It’s a mollusk…um, Google it.
I, personally, got a lot out of the college. One of the things they are known for is using groups to learn. I know a lot of people don’t like groups because you can end up with stragglers or lazy people in your group. You end up putting in most of the work and everybody gets credit. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t care, as long as my work isn’t eroded by their lack of effort. Fortunately, every group I was ever a part of was good, everybody worked.
The other part that makes Evergreen unique is that the classes are clustered. While it’s possible to take an individual class, most are grouped together where you get multiple credits in multiple subjects. It’s kind of cool to see how science, writing, philosophy, psychology, indigenous studies, and communication can all be a part of a single class and how the instructors are able to have them intertwine with each other to make sense.
I’ll tell you right now, however, that Evergreen isn’t for everybody. Some people need the familiar structure of grades and separate classes. I get that. Also, some people can’t handle the sometimes extreme liberalism that exists on campus. If there’s something to protest, there will be a group protesting it. If you’re an ultra-right conservative, Evergreen can be your worst nightmare come to life. If you’re a believer in freedom of speech, Evergreen might just be up your alley. Just remember, however, that there are just as many hard-headed liberals as there are hard-headed conservatives. You’ll have plenty of disagreements…but if they’re in a controlled environment and there’s respect, you’ll be fine. I know my Christian values were sometimes out of place, but I hung on to them and tried to live right rather than just talk about everybody else and how they should live like me. I was respected and had no problems.
Of course, sometimes a conversation with a fellow student in your group went like this:
ME: Ok, so how do we code this using Java?
SLACKER: I have my own cup, thanks.
SLACKER: Well, it’s obvious you don’t need me to help. I’m gonna go, dude.
SLACKER: I can stick around, but I have to finish weaving this basket. I need it to graduate this Summer or my parents will kill me. Do you mind?
SLACKER: Grab the end of that reed, will ya?
It could be like that sometimes, but it rarely happened to me. I thrived in that school and never made a basket my entire time. My wife did, however…several, I think.