Titles, Power and Pelf: Applying to the College Honors Program

Recently, I was in a meeting with a professor whom I had asked to write a recommendation for me to the College Honors program. Over the course of the meeting, he asked me what to most, probably is a very simple question: “what should I tell the application committee about you?”. My mind, naturally, went blank, and I could not think of a single redeeming quality about myself.

The question still on my mind hours later, I set about writing a proper answer back to him. What could I say to sum up myself in a single phrase? What would convey the most important qualities of myself that would convince a panel that I am worth the instruction and attention that, if selected, I would receive?

This is what I said:

“My greatest ambition is to be like my father. Like me, he has an impressive list of qualifications and talents. He has a master’s degree, prays a rosary every day, and has a vocabulary of half the dictionary. He has read every piece Charles Dickens ever wrote, can name the composer of a classical piece just by listening, and includes footnote references in his letters. If ever there was a man of many talents, it is him. All of that certainly is good, but it has nothing to do with why I want to be like him.

He works three jobs. One at an office park, another in the tech department of the local library, and the third at the Kroger deli department. One during the day, two at night. For a qualified, intelligent man, there is seemingly no reason why he could not simply work one, better-paid position. Instead, I’ve watched every week for years as he wakes up before the sun is up, goes to work, comes home, changes into another uniform, and heads back out, not returning until 10pm. I have watched him come home exhausted, dirty, hungry. I’ve watched him stay in the car picking me up from things because he didn’t want to embarrass me in front of my high school friends wearing a grocery store uniform.

Why? He does all of this just so that he can be there for my family. He was there at every school play and musical, every concert, ever equestrian meet. He was there to hold my mother’s hand through cancer treatment and around to take me to the city pool in the summer.

I could never be embarrassed of a man like that. Like I said, my greatest ambition is to be like him. All the education in the world would mean nothing if I cannot at the end of the day recount what I have done for another person, whether that be listening to their story or cleaning the floors. None of what I do here will matter if my friends and family cannot say that I was there to tell them that I love them and am proud of them (as he reminds me, at the beginning of every letter he writes).

My father does not see the world in terms of what he is owed and what he or anyone else deserves. He simply sees what needs to be done, sees what others need, and does it. Hopefully, the result of my education will be the same: that I will be able to see better, and that I will be better able to just get it done.

So, my point in all this is that I have no interest in remaining in an ivory tower. If there is no task or person below my father, then there is nothing beneath me, either. Dickens, as my father quoted to me, said it best: “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.”

I will accept any other insult, but I pray that I am never useless. I love my education dearly, but I am fully aware that this is merely the training for something far more important (and I do not mean money, thankfully).”

I won’t know until November if I was chosen for the honors program. In the meantime, I’ll content myself by knowing that every day, in every work shift and class and meeting, I come closer to achieving my greatest ambition. Who could not be content with that?

*The title of this blog is a reference to Sir Walter Scott’s poem, “Breathes there the Man,” which claims that the man who has everything (titles, power and pelf) still dies twice, body and soul, if he lacks connection to others and his homeland.*

We Came, WARSAW, We Conquered

As promised, hello from Poland! I have spent the last two weeks with my classmates exploring Warsaw, Lublin, and Lodz, visiting the historical and cultural landmarks, attending class discussions, and of course, eating some very delicious food. I am taking a course entitled, “History, Memory, and the Holocaust,” in which we are examining the politics and factors that determine how and what we choose to remember and memorialize in history. As I write this, we are heading to the last city we’ll visit, Krakow.

Due to a heavy course load and pre-vet requirements, I won’t be able to study abroad for a semester or a year. The Maymester program has offered me the opportunity to still travel and learn – an incredible, life-changing opportunity that I will be forever grateful to have experienced. An introvert at heart, the trip has certainly demanded of me a newfound adventurous nature, but the results have been far better than I could have expected.

While we spend weekdays as a class, visiting relevant sites, memorials, museums, and taking tours of the city, the weekends are free for us to explore on our own and in smaller groups – and explore I have! I’ve spent my days wandering through the cities, visiting various churches (they are all GORGEOUS), and of course, being as much of a tourist as possible.

Someone out there said that pictures are worth a thousand words, so… I’ll let you all see for yourselves what I’ve been up to 🙂

another Lublin old town view!
outdoor stations of the cross? say less.
first group dinner!
all I can say is… yum.
found a little nature trail in the Warsaw old town!
JPII!! need I say more?
again, gorgeous.
the best preserved pre-war street in Lublin!
Lublin!

 

I’m making myself hungry just looking at these again…
so many churches, all of them gorgeous!
a view of Krakow from a tower!
a group of us exploring the Warsaw old town!

The Little Things

My Dad’s favorite author is the infamous Charles Dickens, and because of that, I was introduced to his acerbic writing from a young age. One of the quotes most memorable to me from our (often lengthy) discussions was this, found in Our Mutual Friend: “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of it for anyone else.” Although this pithy quote has made its way onto bumper stickers, banners, and inspirational posters (much like Tolkien’s famous, “not all who wander are lost”), it has also taken up permanent residence in the back of my mind.

Navigating these past few weeks, this line has come up for me too many times to be completely ignored. So far, I have had two interviews: the first for the position of Kimball captain, a leadership role in the kitchen, and the second for a new role on campus as a Peer Wellness Coach. Preparing for the interviews, and specifically the age-old question, “why this job?,” I found myself coming back to the same conclusion, despite the two roles being wholly unrelated (it would take a better philosopher than me to find connection between dirty dishes and personal well-being): why, if given the opportunity and the capacity to make another persons’ life a little easier, would I not do it?

As all of campus looks forward to spring break, and quite a few of us prepare to ship out to our Spring Break Immersion (SBIP) sites (for me, Ivanhoe, VA), that question has challenged me to re-evaluate my daily life and how I interact with my environment. The premise of SBIP is that, although entering a community for a week will likely have no long-term impact or incite any sort of meaningful long-term change, it is worth it to go, simply to alleviate those burdens as best we can for the time being. Simply, some help is better than none.

This reflection, rather timely for the Lenten season, has motivated me to change my outlook on my daily life here on campus, shifting my focus from myself and my (quite extensive!) list of problems and to instead asking, “how can I lighten someone’s burden today?”. Holding a door, a smile, staying an extra few minutes after my shift or a simple “how are you doing?” undoubtedly will not fix any significant problem, nor will it have much effect on the community at large. Yet, I would argue that those things are far more important than anything else I will accomplish on a daily basis, simply because they might lighten another’s burden by the tiniest fraction. After all, I would much rather be insignificant than useless!

In the spirit of appreciating the little things in life, I’ve attached a few pictures of some happy little moments over the last few weeks:

valentine’s flowers from my parents!
an early sunday morning in a comfy chair!
finding out my friend and I owned the same funky socks!
listening to the organ in the choir loft for my music theory class!
feeling official with my SGA nameplate:)

The View from the Practice Room

I’ve always loved watching people. The ‘shower thought,’ if you will, that each and every person you see and pass has their own, equally complicated and chaotic world that they alone inhabit – that no one else will ever know completely, has always been in equal parts comforting and terrifying to me, and I love to sit and wonder about other peoples’ little worlds: are they like mine? Do they see what I see? Are they wondering the same? Although there are many spots on campus where one could engage in such an activity, my favorite is in the Prior practice rooms. Enclosed by glass walls, I can watch the people on the ground floor, three floors down from where I sit, do everything from study, to sip tea, to perform. The result, at least for me, is the happy knowledge that, although separated by sound-proofed walls, I am far from alone.

My Montserrat course, entitled “Worlds of Sense” this semester, has been reading German philosopher Markus Gabriel’s “Why the World Does not Exist.” (By the world, he means an idea, category, or uniting factor by which everything that is real can be defined [and if that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry – it doesn’t to me or any of my classmates either!]). Although we are only a few chapters in, and barely two weeks into the semester, a few of his claims have already taken up semi-permanent residence in my mind, leaving me constantly puzzling over his words and ideas. Now, sitting in Cool Beans, watching the students, professors, and staff come and go, this quote comes to mind:

“From a cosmic perspective, it looks very much as if, in the interests of pure survival, we cling to an arrogant fantasy, namely the idea that humanity and its life world are something special… To a galaxy long since deceased, whose light has just reached us, it is of utterly no concern whether or not I ate breakfast this morning.”

This sounds, albeit fatalistic, correct. The world will go on, and each of our little worlds will each go on too, with seemingly no effect on each other. I will practice in that little soundproofed room while a class above me will study philosophy, and the workshop below me builds a set for a play; the people across the building from me will wonder at the art gallery’s new exhibit, and the students who sit at tables below me will sip their tea, study their work, and laugh with one another. But Gabriel doesn’t leave us there, as little ants in a galaxy far too big for us. In fact, the entire basis of his claims is that the universe – everything that we know and see of the space around us – is just one, tiny part of the world.

In fact, to Gabriel, I am not separated from the rest of the building at all, despite being alone. For the students on the ground floor, I am the cellist practicing on the third floor, and to the passers-by in the hallway, I am the one whose music they can faintly hear. To the art gallery, I am the musician across from them, and maybe for another student, I am the one whose little world they contemplate. I exist in the material world, yes, but I am also a part of each of those little worlds as well – the worlds that I may never even think about.

So while my world may be small, even miniscule, and insignificant from the perspective of the universe, you and I are not. No, we are so many things, and a part of so many worlds. I may not understand Gabriel’s philosophy, and I may never know the depths of your worlds, but I can say this: how wonderful it is that I ate breakfast this morning! How wonderful is it that, from my and your perspective, breakfast is of such importance! And how wonderfully, fantastically arrogant indeed that you and I are so special, our existence so multi-faceted and so relevant from the view of that practice room!

some yummy food from croads that I enjoyed in a nook in, you guessed it, PPAC!
the view from the practice room! (PPAC was empty because this was taken late at night):)

Semester One… All Done!

And just like that, my last final is over! (and by that, I mean hours spent studying, panicking, and drinking coffee at 10pm). It’s been such an amazing semester on the hill, and I’m so excited for what the next holds this spring. Not only have I met some amazing friends, but I’ve also gained an incredible sense of community, from the SGA cabinet to the orchestra, the Kimball student workers and even my classes!

a group of students with their professor stands in front of a black chalkboard, covered in mathematical terms. All of the students are smiling, and some are holding up peace signs.
my calc 1 class on our last day!

If you had told me a year ago that I would (willingly?!) be taking physics and calc, preparing to declare as a music major, snacking on French toast sticks and bacon at midnight in a dining hall (thank you midnight breakfast), and most importantly, being happy and finding myself at a little college in Worcester Massachusetts, I would have laughed in your face. I’m not sure if I could have imagined or predicted a single experience this semester, but I’m certainly grateful for all of them.

I’m of course excited to go home and see my family, friends, and pets (and not quite so excited to leave campus at 4am for my flight…), but I’m even more excited to come back here for another semester on the hill. <3. Merry Christmas everyone!!

I’ve created a little photo gallery here with my favorite memories of first semester:

orchestra auditions!
a (very) full car on move in day!

 

 

 

 

 

manyyyy hours spent in the practice room!
my first montserrat event going into Worcester!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

first football game with my friends!
a first-year retreat at the Joyce contemplative center!
a season-opener hockey game!

 

 

celebrating my birthday with Kimball cake!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and of course, many more, like reading and writing letters in my hammock outside, ordering 50+ chicken nuggets with my friends, late-night Tchaikovsky listening, building bridges in my physics class, impulsively buying a dinosaur onesie for Halloween, watering my plants in the bathroom sink, and improv sessions in my friends’ room! see you next semester hc!