When I first headed off to college as a bright-eyed, greenbehind- the-ears freshman almost four years ago, I was given a rather strange piece of advice from a beloved teacher: “Don’t let your classes get in the way of learning.” I thought I understood what he meant and how to implement this suggestion: don’t obsess about grades and professors, embrace the intellectual life, continue to read broadly, converse with smart people and invest yourself purely for the love of the thing you’re studying.
Easy enough. Yeah, right. For those of us who live in reality, this sounds simple for about 60 seconds until the first syllabus hits, sounds difficult but feasible until the second hits, impossible but admirably idealistic by the third and not even desirable by the time the first paper assignment rears its ugly head. We have so much to do; who can think about learning? Who even cares by the one month mark? Breaking news: scholarly enthusiasm found dead, murdered in cold blood. The killer? The term paper, in the library, with Chicago Style. Go to lectures that sound exciting? No time for that. Learn things that are interesting but not on the test? I’ll do that when pigs fly and Alter Hall is rebuilt. Read a book on the side? You might as well ask Michael Bay to make a semi-intelligent movie — not happening.
And in my mind this is really a shame. Call me a sap, but I believe in something called the “life of the mind.” Some call it a myth, others call it pretentious and still others call it slow and painful torture, but I think it’s an ideal towards which we ought to strive. Embracing ideas, exploring our interests, expanding our minds for the simple love of the endeavor — string me up if you will, but I do believe that as students we ought to at least recognize the value of such a thing even if not always the plausibility.
Strangely, I have found that the unavoidable decrease in motivation that accompanies the spring of senior year (it is truly unavoidable, my friends) has actually done wonders for my intellectual stimulation. Now that I’m at the point where I know how to get a good grade, and can also recognize that the world will not collapse into a quantum singularity if I do not, I can take some time away from studying to read that book I’ve had next to my bed for three years. I can push off writing a paper by teaching myself linear algebra (yes, I have problems, I know).
For the first time in my life I’m trying to make sense of reading poetry — speaking of which, if anyone understands T.S. Eliot, talk to me. In some way, having this new-found sense of freedom to learn makes me wonder why I was unable to embrace such freedom all along. I don’t mean to get heavyhanded here, but if I could offer one sage piece of advice — like my teacher before me — it would be this: try to enjoy your studies as best you can. You have to study anyway, so you might as well try to learn, and to love learning.
Michael Petrany is a senior majoring in biology and philosophy from Huntington, WV.