Regret 101 | Education | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Regret 101 

Of course, we all wish we'd studied more...

Bernie Sanders

Published August 24, 2005 at 2:33 p.m. | Updated September 16, 2016 at 3:22 p.m.

If George Bernard Shaw was correct in observing, "Youth is wasted on the young," then college, too, counts as a privilege the fledgling scholar may not fully appreciate at the time. A liberal arts education is an enticing buffet. But in the rush to pick a major, and get enough credits to graduate, many students fill up on quick-carb subjects. Who hasn't gone for the gut course instead of the challenging one?

Later -- sometimes decades after matriculation -- many college grads find themselves yearning for protein. Turns out that econ course would have come in handy in the current job. A little Spanish would have helped with the haggling on that Central American vacation.

Hindsight sure helps when you pick your college courses. We asked a handful of prominent Vermonters what they wished they'd taken in college. So many courses, so little time.


U.S. Congressman

Burlington/Washington, D.C.

University of Chicago, B.A. Political Science

1. "Orwell and the 21st Century." This course would have helped me understand the double-speak coming from the Bush administration. They do one thing and say exactly the opposite.

2. "The Influence of Big Money in Electoral Politics." This course would have prepared me for what I'll be up against in running for the U.S. Senate over the next 16 months.

3. "Modern Poetry." Life can't be all politics and media.


Director of U.S. Programs, Institute for Sustainable Communities


Wheaton College,

B.S. Political Science

Harvard Graduate School of Design, M.S. City Planning

What I've found in my profession is that I need much more training in design than I ever expected when I entered graduate school. I took one drawing class there, but it was totally inadequate for my career. I focused too much on mathematics, history, political science, the social sciences and language, and didn't get enough of the creative side, the creative arts. I would have liked to have taken more drawing courses.

And also music appreciation. I'm an adult piano player; I picked up piano lessons 12 years ago. But I don't feel I have a strong enough background in music to really appreciate what I'm doing and what I'm learning. I would love to be an opera singer in my next life, but I have a terrible voice.


Founder, board chairman,

IDX Systems Co.


St. Michael's College,

B.A. Mathematics

I wish I'd taken a business course or two. Business or economics. To this day, I've never taken a business or economics course. It might have helped somewhere. But common sense works pretty well, too, in business. Obviously, it hasn't hurt me. But it would have been nice to get a jumpstart, without having to learn it all by myself.


Entomologist, Vt. Dept. of Forests, Parks and Recreation


University of Washington, Seattle, B.S. Botany

University of Vermont,

M.S., PhD Entomology

I love working as an entomologist, and I enjoyed the classes that I took to get where I am, but a person couldn't take too many classes in subjects like music, literature, art, nutrition and fitness that enrich your life no matter what field you get into. For example, as a recreational musician, I wish I could have squeezed in some accordion classes.


Conductor of Cosmic Symphonies, a.k.a.

CEO Magic Hat Brewing Co.


Long Island University,

B.A. Psychology

Minors in Sociology and English

There were two courses that I wish I had taken: typewriting -- I wish I had learned how to use a typewriter, a keyboard. And French; I'm way too old and don't have the memory to take on a language now, but I wish I'd learned French when I was young and my brain had retention to it. Then I'd know how to travel in Europe. Because with English and French, you can pretty much go anywhere.


Associate Professor of Economics, University of Vermont, & Burlington

City Councilor


Stanford University,

B.A. & PhD Economics

I wish I had studied more natural and physical sciences -- I'm kind of weak in those areas -- so I'd have a more well-rounded understanding of our world.


Sheep farmer and independent filmmaker


Harvard University,

B.A. Government

E.O. Wilson taught a course that I wish I'd taken. But I think the student guidebook said, "If you don't have a couple of good years of high school biology, this course will kick your ass," so I was intimidated and didn't take it. But now I regret that decision, especially because science isn't my strong suit.

I guess I also wish I'd taken some introduction to music course, because I know nothing about music. As an example, one of my students asked me the other day how high the scale went. I said, "I think to G or H." So there's room for improvement. Until I take that course, I'm just going to be home composing songs in the key of H.


Founding Director,

Circus Smirkus


Lake Forest College,

B.A. Drama and Literature

There was no drama major at my college, but they gave me credit for spending a year in Paris with Marcel Marceau and other teachers of mime and theater. So it was basically an independent study. I was grateful it was a small enough school that allowed me to pursue my interests.

What was missing was languages. Reason being, my career has taken me to different parts of the world. I've picked up languages here and there, but it would have been a great head start to learn some languages in school. In the circus you are working in a real global subculture. I also wish I'd taken more political science. Political science and languages: that shows a little of my bent -- being part of the larger world.


Vermont Supreme Court Justice


Southern Illinois University,

B.A. Sculpture

Minor in Art History

I wish that I had learned a foreign language. At the time I probably would have chosen French, but now I would do Spanish. And I would have done a lot more work in world history. Because I really don't know anything -- nothing stuck with me. I might understand the situation in the Middle East better.

Of course, golfing might be nice -- instead of fencing, like I took.


Co-founder, Ben & Jerry's; President,


Colgate, Skidmore, New York University, University Without Walls, no degree, no major

I would have liked to have taken some cooking classes ... and more welding classes; I'm such an amateur. I would have liked to develop some facility with metal.

I would have liked to take some bicycle mechanics -- maybe they teach that at a voc tech school. I would have liked to have learned how to draw. The major skill that has really held me back in my life is the inability to express my ideas visually.




Green Mountain College and University of Colorado,

B.A. Sociology

I have always loved the game of soccer so much; in middle school and high school, we only did a two-week session. I was born too early, always stuck in the sidelines. When I went to college, they needed a team and I was too scared to do it. I wish I'd taken advantage of that opportunity. Years later, at age 40, I'm learning to play -- pickup games at Oakledge Park.

I also didn't study art -- I took private classes after college.


President, University of Vermont


Cornell University, B.A. in English, MFA in Poetry, PhD in English Literature

I think the answer is, I wish I'd studied more. I'm one of those people who had a lot of wonderful professors and didn't take enough advantage of them.

I don't really wish I'd studied anything else. I love literature and I would keep studying it -- if I stopped being a university president, I'd go back to teaching and studying it.


Poet East Calais

Goddard, B.A., no major, but focus on English and poetry

I wished I'd taken a survey course in English literature. I always had individual classes in specific subjects; I have kind of a patchwork quilt of knowledge, I never got the line all the way through.




Ohio State University, B.A. Music Composition (having left behind a path of dodecaphonic devastation from which the school is only now recovering)

To better appreciate the course I wish I'd taken in college, it's instructive to first list two courses I wish I hadn't taken. At the top of the list is Psychoanalysis, which, in my school at least, emphasized the third and fourth syllables. The textbook was by Dr. Sigmoid Freud -- no, not a misspelling -- and involved rather a lot of dream interpretation of the colon utilizing a teensy flashlight and a long tube. For reasons never made clear, I was appointed "chief colonist," and the less said about that, the better.

The other course was cryptically entitled "Loose-Surface Sediments and the Soothsayer Who Studied Them." It sounded ever so intriguing, so imagine my disappointment when I discovered that it was a rehash of an accounting class previously called "Prophet and Loess."

Ergo -- and I presume this isn't a prodigious leap of logic -- I wish I'd studied Greek Mythology, concentrating on the warriors of Scythia known as Amazons because, like them, I have a predilection for mail-order books.



Main Street Landing


Katherine Gibbs, Associate's

Degree, Business

Studied business at Harvard

Medicine. I always wanted to be a doctor. Of course in my day, my father's thinking was, get her trained in business so that if she ever loses her husband, she can get a job and support her children. If you go to med school, you're in school for seven or eight years. If I had my choice, I would have gone to medical school and become a doctor. I am still enthralled; I still read all about health and anything to do with the human body. If I had it all to do all over again, I'd be a general practitioner.


Minister, First Unitarian Universalist Society


Harvard, B.A. History

Harvard Divinity School,

M.A. Divinity

I wish I'd studied everything I didn't study -- art appreciation and studio art, and music literacy, but also math and science and physics. I concentrated in history, the humanities. I think being a student is one of the great luxuries and privileges a person can have. I had the opportunity to go back to Harvard in 1996 -- they choose four clergy to go back each year for a Merrill Fellowship Program ... the best course I took was with Stephen Jay Gould.


Owner, Eat Good Food


University of Vermont,

Trinity College, B.A. English

& Education

I wish I'd studied more art because there's very little opportunity to study that when you're out of college and doing your life. I took some classes at the School of Visual Arts ... but I couldn't go back to school full-time.

I don't wish that I'd gone to culinary school, oddly enough -- I just learned a lot from the restaurants I worked at. But I'd like to do more crafts. I just got a glue gun and my life has changed!


Owner, Radio Bean


Universities of Minnesota

and Vermont, no degree

I just got back from Europe, and the French I took in high school was helpful, but I felt sort of absurd not speaking a foreign language. Also, some trade skills would be handy in doing repairs: plumbing, electrical, metal work, that kind of thing.

The most helpful for me, though, would have been an accounting class. I had no accounting or bookkeeping knowledge at all. I just made up my own system for my business. I don't stress out about the bottom line, because I don't know what the bottom line is.


Executive Director, Committee on Temporary Shelter, Burlington

University of Maryland,

B.A. Russian Studies

Sino-Soviet Fellow

I'd take a course in economics, so I'd have a better understanding of why it is people are working harder than ever -- most families have both parents working -- and they still can't afford to pay their bills.

Also ... typing.




Columbia University, B.A. Art History & English

Pratt Institute, MFA in Art

Columbia is a great smorgasbord school -- I studied all kinds of things. Having a high degree of curiosity, I'd say I'd want to study more of everything: American, English, Russian literature, more history; architectural and art history ... It was a wonderful core curriculum that stoked my curiosity about everything.

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About The Author

Pamela Polston

Pamela Polston

Pamela Polston is a cofounder and the Art Editor of Seven Days. In 2015, she was inducted into the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame.


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