Kim: The value of a Northwestern education

JuJu Kim

I remember an incident about four years ago, several days after I decided to enroll at Northwestern, when a family friend declared my choice foolish. “My friend who went to Medill has to work multiple freelance jobs to make ends meet,” she said. “It’s not worth it.” Overwhelmed with excitement about my impending high school graduation and with anticipation of the future, I dismissed the cynical warning that would later come back to haunt me. College graduation seemed eons away. What was the point of worrying now?

Fast forward to Winter Quarter of freshman year, the night of my first man-on-the-street deadline assignment and the first time I questioned my enrollment decision. My fingers froze around my pen, icicles formed in my nose and barely legible scribbles covered my notebook. I needed two more sources, but no one wanted to talk to me. Making deadline seemed impossible. “This better be worth it,” I muttered to myself outside of Panera.

I found myself repeating some form of that line during trying times throughout my four years at NU. I said it when I found myself spending more than $100 on a taxi ride from Evanston to another suburb to interview a source for my Multimedia Storytelling final project instead of attending Dillo Day freshman year, and I uttered it during the numerous all-nighters I pulled. When my journalism residency enlightened me to the harsh realities of finding a magazine job in New York City and the sacrifices that would entail, the question, “Is this truly worth it?” resonated in my brain daily.

Earlier this quarter, I met my boyfriend and his friends, who attend University of Chicago, in Chicago for a meal. One of them asked, “If you had to do it again, would you still go to Northwestern?” I hesitated before answering, pondering how I could respond to his question when I had no idea when I would find a job. I look back now at that moment and wonder how I could base my response solely on my employment status. Despite the countless instances over the past four years when the phrase “It’s not worth it” echoed through my mind, I recently realized my college experience adds up to much more than a salary and a job title.

I may not depart NU with a job, but I’m leaving with so many intangibles — assets and experiences to which you can affix no monetary value. A group project for the journalism class I feared most introduced me to some of my closest friends. The high school students I mentored on Saturday mornings at Medill’s Chicago newsroom taught me to approach life with a more relaxed perspective and motivated me with their passion for journalism. After a myriad of depressing fourth-quarter losses, I shared in Wildcat fandom’s elation when the football team won the Gator Bowl. My heart sank when I found out Drew Crawford needed surgery on his shoulder. I ruined my favorite pair of shoes splashing in the mud at Chiddy Bang and B.o.B. I separated the people who cared from the people who didn’t, and I trimmed the latter from my life. I’m proud to call a number of inspiring professors my mentors. I expanded my knowledge in academic disciplines from which I never imagined myself taking classes. I learned how to navigate Chicago. I discovered a group of five NU girls can live in a cramped two-bedroom apartment with one bathroom in New York City for a quarter and emerge from it as friends.

I don’t know where life will take me in the next year or even in the next few months. Perhaps I will need to work multiple freelance gigs to pay the bills, and maybe our family friend will approach my mother to say, “I told you so.” But thanks to these intangibles, I’m parting NU a completely changed individual. And I’d say that is worth quite a lot.