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The Importance of Originality Beyond the Classroom

A few ways one student learned to stay true to himself and the lessons that he's learned about originality along the way.

Ben Tarkoff

As the mechanical beast lumbered into the sky, I realized that I was leaving all that was familiar behind. My high school, my home, my family, and my dogs all disappeared into the jet stream of the airplane carrying me to my destination. It was a surreal, out-of-body experience. This was a trip into the unknown. My only company: smiling airline attendants painted onto the safety manual and the second bag of peanuts I managed to secure. A trip from a small, suburban town in the East Bay of California to the adventures that awaited me at the University of Alabama. Two thousand miles away and for the first time in my life, I was on my own.

Looking back on my leap of faith as a now rising-junior, I can affirm that this moment was life-changing. Not only was it one step forward for my parents, trusting me to my own devices at a school all the way across the country, but two steps forward for my confidence, knowing that I could handle whatever came my way. I had the opportunity to be exposed to an entirely new world and, as the only one from my high school to make the voyage, I was able to make countless new friends and connections that never would have been possible before. In Alabama, I tasted, no, experienced the heaven that is Chik-Fil-A for the first time (but certainly not the last, much to the chagrin of my bank account). I made friends with a diverse group of people and I even rode a mechanical bull.

It took me awhile to come to terms with my decision to leave California, but I realized that I would never have been satisfied with the status quo if I had stayed. Once I embraced forging an unexpected, original path for myself, my life was taken to heights I never thought possible. In retrospect, there is a combination of things that helped me to stay true to myself. Here are a few lessons that I've learned along the way:

  • It's Okay to Go Off the Beaten Path
  • As a student, I can safely say that it is refreshing to have a professor who teaches with gusto. An instructor with fervor for their subject captures your attention like none other. For example, one of my teachers created a May interim class all about BBQ and going on a road trip to explore different BBQ in different states. Students have raved about that class since it began and the "roast" is history: my professor took a known concept and put a new spin on it that no one had thought of before. This shows that some ideas are neither good nor bad, but rather that their success depends on your willingness to go off the beaten path and embrace originality.

  • Go Out and Explore
  • When I first entered the University of Alabama, I started down a path to become a lawyer, but it was so set in stone that it prevented me from seeing what else was out there. It was only when I started to look at other options that did not revolve around studying the law that I found where my true passions lay. I was introduced to one of the nation's top, student-run PR firms; I became an ambassador for my college to incoming students and started down a different road than the one upon which I had expected. Keeping an eye open to new adventures is priceless: it can often show you new sides of yourself that you never knew were there.

  • Be Unsatisfied
  • More than ever before, we live in a world that changes and evolves faster than we can imagine. And with this change, we must understand that it is okay for us to transform and push past the norm that is expected of us. Year after year, my high school peers in our small, California town were presented with the same options for college. Unsatisfied, I decided to step out of that bubble and instead travel across the country to attend the University of Alabama. To this day, I have never regretted a second of my time spent there or the people, places, and successes I have encountered as a result of this move. Don't be satisfied with what is already out there: instead, take your ideas and experiences and seize an opportunity to grow.

On a smaller scale, being original in the classroom means creativity. It means coming up with unique inspiration and ideas that can only possibly come from you and the challenges and successes that life has brought you. On a larger scale, it sets you apart in a crowd and shows your willingness to see failure as a stepping stone to continued improvement. But growth and originality are not restricted to what lies inside the classroom. I realized on my journey that they extend into the world that lies at our fingertips, just outside of it. I cannot emphasize enough the impact that taking the road less traveled can have because, on it, you are always learning and becoming a better you.

The name's Tarkoff... Ben Tarkoff. A rising junior at the University of Alabama, he's majoring in Communication Studies and minoring in Political Science. He's the current Marketing Intern at Turnitin, where he's writing blog posts and fighting the urge to snack in the afternoon.