Jennifer Nelson:Another lesson from the tree of knowledge

Once again, I was caught off-guard last week when a classmate asked if I am a full-time student. I’m constantly adjusting to attending an urban university, a place where many students take one or two classes for fun or to further their education. Sometimes I catch myself assuming all PSU students are like me. It’s never long before I’m reminded otherwise.

“So,” the reminder will say as he or she readies to leave class, “are you a full-time student?”

“Yes,” I answer. “And you?”

“Oh, no. I work in advertising at the Oregonian.” Or, “No, I’m working on my master’s degree part time.” Or, “Actually, I’m retired. I’m just taking this class for kicks.”

More commonly, I hear: “I go to (one of our local community colleges). After I get my A.A., I’ll transfer.”

“To PSU?” I always ask. And nine times out of 10 I’m told: “No, I want to go to a real college.”

A real college.

The words have a fierce bite. And you better believe they leave teeth marks.

When I heard them for the umpteenth time last week, my temper flared. “What,” I asked a friend later that night, “is so bad about Portland State University?”

His reply: “Let’s just say, if I had to do it all over again, I would have done things differently.” By this, he most likely meant he wouldn’t have been booted from his first four colleges. At least that’s what I hope he meant. But it is possible that he meant, “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have picked PSU.”

He didn’t elaborate. He didn’t need to. I grew up in Portland, and when it came time for me to go to college, my dad encouraged me to consider PSU.

But I didn’t want to go to school so close to home. I wanted a more thriving campus social scene. I wanted Division I sports.

So, I chose Oregon State University, and I got what I wanted. I was far enough from my family to feel like I was away, but close enough to come home to do laundry and eat a good meal. At OSU, it seemed as if everyone was involved in one campus activity or another. And sports, well … let’s just say I was there. And it was great.

But there were things I disliked about Oregon State, things that brought me back to Portland.

I missed the city. While I did develop a fondness for the smell of manure in spring, blowing east in the afternoon breeze, it proved no match for Portland’s gritty post-rain glow.

I longed for good films and museums and music.

I was tired of seeing millions of dollars funneled into athletics and the College of Engineering, while the College of Liberal Arts seemed to get nothing. Truth be told, the same thing is happening here, but on a much smaller scale.

More than anything, though, I was ready for a change.

I never questioned Portland State’s credentials because I had known too many people who went here and loved it. And, aside from the occasional frustration with parking, I love it, too.

College is defined by lessons. It’s about getting involved and learning and making mistakes and moving on and vowing you would or wouldn’t do it all the same if you could.

It’s about being in city you love with people you enjoy and professors you respect.

It’s about discovering the kind of person you want to be.

Portland State has done that for me. It’s done that for a lot of people.

If given the chance, it just might do it for you.