My most influential classes

Some classes just stick with you.

I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago about influential classes that I took in college – classes that helped shape my world view and approach to life. I noted that it was interesting to look back and see what has stuck with me after two decades.

The more I started to think about it, I realized the same was true for high school and even middle school classes. Some classes just stick with you long after you take them. And decades later, it's sometimes surprising which classes and teachers shape how you look at the world decades later. 

I'm lucky to have had a whole range of amazing teachers at all levels. But a handful stick out in my mind today:

  • Speech Arts, 8th Grade, Batavia Junior High. I took a speech arts class in eighth grade and was forced to get comfortable with prepared and impromptu speeches in front of crowds. To this day, I think of Mr. McCloud's class before I make a big presentation.
  • German, 9th-12th Grade, Aiken High School. I don't use German as part of my job. I can read German without too much difficulty, but my spoken German is embarrassing because I haven't really spoken German conversationally in a couple of decades. So if I don't use German in my career, why was German so influential? Because Herr Lader and Frau Lader* taught me about another culture and helped me understand things from a more global perspective. And as a bonus, it provided me with an opportunity to spend six weeks in Germany one summer and experience life from a different point of view. Randomly, German class is also where I learned about Bauhaus and Walter Gropius, a couple of my favorite influences from art history. I enjoyed it so much, that I went on to take three more years of German in college and my cognate** is German.
  • Media Law, Freshman, University of South Carolina. After spending a semester with Dr. Collins, you look at the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and our legal system in a different way — understanding the balancing act of personal freedoms and necessary governance. A tough class, especially for a freshman.***
  • Political Psychology, Junior, University of South Carolina. This was an odd little Honors College seminar. A small class with lots of readings and lots of discussions. I learned about why we make the decisions we make and the factors that influence our government and our leaders. I come back to those discussions frequently, especially in today's political climate.

There are many others, too. A middle school shop class introduced me to woodworking and drafting. High school and college history classes fostered a love of the past. An intro to art class equipped me with many of the tools that I still use today. A class on mysticism in Eastern Orthodox Christianity whose lessons seem to come up at the most random times.

Looking back, many of the classes that I loved and enjoyed were outside my major and outside my career needs. But they are undoubtedly a significant part of who I am.

We force kids to decide on career paths earlier and earlier. I see many students today rushing though school, laser-focused on taking classes that will advanced their specific career needs. And while we want them to be focused, I worry that many of them are missing out on those random classes that might not help them in their chosen career, but might help them become a more well-rounded person.

* Yes. I know I should call you Art and Lisa. It’s just so hard.

** A cognate is kind of like a minor, but isn't.

*** I know why I took the class as a freshman. But wow! What a crazy class to take your first semester of college.

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he tries to find the time to go back to school. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.