“This is a different kind of school.” That is the first thing that another student said to me on my very first day of classes at Portland State. Initially, I took it to mean that somehow PSU did not quite maintain standards that were equal to other state schools. Yet, ripe and difficult classes were going on before my very eyes and, with pencil in hand, I was being challenged with quality academics.
A few quarters later I began to wonder if I would ever see that other student again; I was aching for him to finish the phrase, to tell me why PSU is a “different” kind of school.
Sure, Bill Clinton spoke highly of the uniqueness of PSU’s University Studies Program but that was surely mitigated by the conflict that surrounded it at the time. Sure, we have all heard the mantra of “nontraditional,” but very often this has become a location of disingenuous discourse, especially when every urban school is “diverse” on the West Coast.
So, we the students of PSU are different without knowing why. We are spoken of in ways that are not always flattering, nor honor the seriousness of Portland State’s academic reputation. There is a sense among the students that PSU is, foremost, a functional university: supporting different schedules, creating different avenues of educational access and casting its admissions net, possibly wider than it should. However, this is where the pragmatism of going to PSU outshines the more-than decent PSU academic community. In other words, this school does not suck.
The graduating class of 2001 carries this message with more efficacy than any other university community member. Mostly because their ensuing actions are intricately effected by the PSU experience without them actually being here. They are the university’s messengers of integrity. But, more than that, they will be speaking of PSU while simultaneously (and ironically) being PSU’s academic indicator through their own achievements, unique voice and civic involvement (and all while the university is still fresh on the graduates’ minds).
This is why, with a very sincere “good luck,” I also ask you, the graduate, to remember fairly your academic community. Of course, there were experiences bordering on the monotonous, the absurd, the annoying – but what about the interesting, the minor and major epiphanies, that small, strenuous class that was almost worth the $13,000 alone. And, yes, the diversity is challenging, and, yes, we all meet a lot of people that just don’t “think the way I do” and that is the greatest gift of the urban university.
Graduate, the qualitative “difference” is you. Do not allow PSU to be divorced of the nostalgia that graduating students should rightly feel for their experience; do not allow others to question the precision and vigor of your education; do not allow the probing question of “where did you go to school” be met with a roll of your eyes. You are graduating from Portland State University, and hey, it absolutely did not suck.