When I was seventeen I had the incredible privilege of going to a summer collegiate program in New Hampshire. The program was an intensive two week introduction to liberal arts and the Great Books program. In those two weeks, I took four classes: Apologetics, American Political Traditions, Literature and Philosophy.
Though the program was short, it left an indelible mark on me as a student and a person.
I was able to meet other curious students from different parts of the globe. One student from Ecuador, seven from Italy, as well as some from Los Angeles, Virginia, Mississippi, and Montana were in attendance. In addition to reading and learning, we also climbed Mt. Monadnock and went to York Beach for the day in Maine. For one student from Kansas, this was one of the first times he saw the ocean.
I am now five years removed from that two week adventure. So much about me has changed yet fundamentally remains the same. After the program, I was dead set on attending the school for my college years. Tucked away into the woods of New Hampshire, I would've been part of a tiny contingent of less than one hundred students all extracting the marrow of life. But of course, as fate or Medusa would have it, I ended up on a different trajectory. A trajectory that has recently culminated in my graduation last week. I am happy with my decision to have gone down a different path, but once a month I would sit awake at night and wonder of where the other might have taken me.
In a DVD to entrance prospective students to the college, the poem "The Beautiful Changes" by Richard Wilbur is the centerpiece.
One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides
The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies
On water; it glides
So from the walker, it turns
Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you
Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.
The beautiful changes as a forest is changed
By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;
As a mantis, arranged
On a green leaf, grows
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.
Your hands hold roses always in a way that says
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes
In such kind ways,
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.
I remember feeling content sleeping in the humid dorm, the complaints of my Vermont roommate about too much work and not enough play, the wafting of cigarette smoke into the tiny room, and the sound of Josh Ritter's tale, Harrisburg. The hallways became our hangout areas and the trees were our smoking lounges.
The final assignment at the program was the oral delivery of a speech written about a philosophical concept that was touched on by our numerous readings and lectures. I was assigned to write about the nature of faith, which to a non-believer in his third year of catholic high school, was a familiar task. Poring through Kierkegaard, Socrates and The Bible during the rainy afternoon was daunting and intimidating. I was called on first to deliver my speech and after its transmission was grilled by all of my instructors. This was the part we were not warned about, the critiques of our work, the "so what"s and the "how come"s. After listening to everyone's speeches in the hot summer evening, I finally understood that old adage about "the ivory tower" of college.
Now on the bookshelf, the stained, highlighter-ridden copies of Sir Gawain, Faulkner, O'Connor, Hamilton, Adams, Marx and Socrates have nestled in with Thompson, Pinchbeck, Castaneda, Wood, Zinn and now most lovingly, Gould. For a moment all they touch turns back to wonder.