My Journey at Saint Mary’s

So far, college life was as I expected: lots of homework, freedom in terms of one’s personal time, and basically how I previously lived my life. When my English 5 class was assigned this essay, I became flustered. Having only been in school for three weeks, discussing the impact of Saint Mary’s College would prove challenging. For this reason, I had some doubtful thoughts, “There was no way I could write this essay. There was no way that I could relate to this prompt. There was no way Saint Mary’s could make me a better person.” Despite my initial thoughts, the more I worked on the essay, I realized how wrong I really was. Through the works of Rabindranath Tagore, Richard Feynman, Martha Nussbaum, Mario Vargas Llosa, Marjane Satrapi, and Fredrick Douglass, I was able to understand and connect their masterpieces to my personal life in order to realize how Saint Mary’s has helped me develop academically, civically, professionally, and socially; thus staying true to the school’s belief in “curas personalis”. Academically To start, Saint Mary’s improved me academically by teaching me how to truly comprehend the subjects I was taught by opening my mind to the value of education. In Tagore’s essay, “To Teachers”, he argues that schools should support the natural curiosity of children, but at the same time be exposed to them in various different elements for them to mature into better human beings. Despite this idea, the current school system didn’t take it to heart. In fact, they are pursuing the complete opposite of what he wanted, “When we are sent to school, the doors of natural information are closed to us; our eyes see the letters, our ears hear the abstract lessons, but our mind misses the perpetual stream of ideas from nature...” (Tagore, “To Teachers”, Reading the World). Instead of allowing their minds and curiosity to wonder, they are forced to learn the information presented in front of them. This is a problem because it decimates the child's passion to learn. Without passion, children will become mindless robots, only able to retain what is thrown at them and not able to think critically and truly understand what they were taught. In addition, Tagore voices another concern, the current system disrupts the natural flow of ideas. In school, subjects are jumbled up and taught in a non-linear fashion. Their explanation for the phenomenon is that they are assigned a certain curriculum to follow and the other topics aren’t “necessary”.

This hinders the students’ ability to understand what they are learning because it eliminates the opportunity for them to build up the new knowledge with what they learned previously. During my senior year of high school, we had to read a book known as Persepolis, which was an autobiography written by Marjane Satrapi about her life during and after the Iranian Revolution. I was drawn by Marjane’s passion to learn, “I wanted to be an educated, liberated woman. And if the pursuit of knowledge meant getting cancer, so be it.” (Satrapi, Persepolis) In this quote, Marjane realizes the value of education after having to deal with the repression from the government. She understands that the only way to fight this problem is to obtain an education. She understands the difficulty of the task and is willing to put everything on the line in order to make her dreams become a reality. This quote struck me because I couldn’t relate to her. I never experienced the passion that she had for learning. All I did was the bare minimum that was asked of me. Fortunately, this changed during my Physics 1 class at Saint Mary’s College. Physics 1 was taught by Professor Aaron Lee and to be honest, I didn’t think highly of him because it his first year of teaching. During the first week, he taught us how to calculate the kinematics of an object in one dimension. What surprised me was how he felt the need to explain every single variable in the equation and why they were needed to solve the problem. As opposed to just plugging numbers into equations, like in high school, I was able to conceptually understand what I was doing. The second week, we began to learn about projectile motion in two dimensions. When I first heard about the new topic, I was overwhelmed. Just like before, instead of throwing an equation at us, he broke down the equation and used our previous equation from kinematic of one dimension to demonstrate how the new formula was derived. My understanding was greatly improved because everything flowed in a linear fashion. He connected what we learned the previous week to create a platform to build off new information. This gave me a joy I have never felt before because I truly began to understand the material I was taught. Thanks to Dr. Lee, I began to value the time I spend in his class. Thanks to Dr. Lee, I was able to ignite my passion to learn. Thanks to Aaron, I finally could relate to Marjane and understand the value of education. Civically Secondly, Saint Mary’s has enabled me to recognize my civic duties. The article “Why Literature”, written by Mario Vargas Llosa, drills into the reader's mind the importance of literature to our society. He argues that without literature, our freedoms would be in jeopardy. “Literature is the food of the rebellious spirit, the promulgator of non-conformities, the refuge for those who have too much or too little in life.” (Llosa, “Why Literature”, Reading the World) In this quote, Mario Vargas Llosa emphasizes the power that literature has to create change. He claims that literature is what fuels people to take action and places those beliefs into the minds of the people in the first place, but best of all, literature doesn’t discriminate and will always be there with open arms. In the past, I always assumed that my civic duties were to obey the laws. As long as I follow these rules and mind my own business, that was all I needed to do. Yet, when I went to Saint Mary’s I began to recognize the flaws in my previous thought. One quote that best expresses this discovery is another quote from Mario Vargas Llosa, “Yet the worst in these pages is not the blood, the humiliation, the abject love of torture; the worst is the discovery that this violence and this excess are not foreign to us, that they are a profound part of humanity.” (Llosa, “Why Literature”, Reading the World) In this quote, he brings to light the phenomenon that causes literature to be so crucial in starting change. Through literature, we are able to evaluate our society and judge for ourselves how far it is from our ideals. If you are reading about a utopia, you can decide how close our world is to the one in the novel. If you are reading about a dystopia, you can decide how close our world is to that. No matter what you read, you will always feel dissatisfied because you realize how far away the world is from perfection or how close it is to your worst nightmares. An experience at Saint Mary’s which helped me understand this was by living in Assumption Hall.

For some reason, Assumption Hall is physically segregated from all the other halls. They are associated with housing the “smartest of students” and because of this, people in Assumption tend to get picked on. Every morning and every night, some upperclassmen yell, “You fucken nerds!” at the top of their lungs. To me, these insults never really affected me, but to some of my hallmates were affected. Because of this, I began to feel as though this wasn’t the environment that I wanted to live in. Some of the people I meet in Assumption Hall are the most genuine people on campus. I wanted to get rid of this negative stigma so that other people could realize how amazing these people are instead of judging them by the hall they live in. This was what led me to try my hardest at the Freshmen Olympics. Although we lost terribly, I still had a great time and it created a better community within the halls. Because of this quote, I was able to realize that part of my civil duty is to support what I believe in order to make the world a better place by supporting those around me. I finally understood that people must work together in unison to make our dreams our reality. Professionally I have improved at Saint Mary’s by being able to professionally criticize so that my voice can be heard without hurting others. One passage that we read in my English 5 class that spoke to me was “O Americano Outra Vez” by Richard Freynman. In this passage, Freynman argues that there is a huge difference between knowing and learning about something. Out of all the passages we were assigned, this was the most impactful to me. The reason behind this is because he made everything very digestible and you could feel his frustration as if they were happening in real time, “I came here knowing we have some sickness in our system of education; what I have learned is that we have a cancer!” (Freynmen, “O Americano Ourta Vez”, Reading the World) To clarify, Freynman did not truly say this. This quote was from one of his peers that he worked with in Brazil. I love this quote because it represents the rippling effect that Freynman’s speech had on his audience. This quote demonstrates that other people that were part of the college faculty realized that there was a problem within their education system. However, they decided to remain quiet because they were afraid. Thanks to Freynman’s bravery, people were able to break out of their shells and exclaim what they truly thought. Another passage that help me understand what Saint Mary’s had done for me was a speech by Fredrick Douglass, “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July”. The background behind this speech was that Fredrick Douglass was asked to speak to a crowd about what the Fourth of July meant to African Americans. Similarly to Freymen, instead of presenting what the people wanted to hear, he used the platform to voice his concern and belief, “To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.” (Douglass, “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July”, Reading the World) In my opinion, Fredrick Douglas is one of the bravest people in history. The reason I believe this is because the majority of his audience were white people of power. If they didn’t like what he said, he could have been stoned, attacked, or even lynched, but the fear of what could have happened to him never stopped him from what was needed of him. In this quote, Fredrick Douglass makes attempts to make his audience members see the Fourth of July from the African American prospective. The first part of this quote explains how African Americans were being chained up and sent to the Americas. The “grand illuminated temple of liberty” is mocking the United States by over emphasizing how apparently great the country is. He does this so that his audience can understand the hypocrisy of the United States. How can the United States be a temple of liberty when it was built on the backs of slaves? He then continues to elaborate how the citizens of the United States are mocking African Americans because they force them to celebrate the freedom of this country even though they are still bonded by slavery. This quote made me realize how fortunate I am to have what I have at Saint Mary’s. One example of this was when we had to do a socratic seminar during the Week of Welcome. During the discussion, I decided to state that the book we were assigned for the socratic seminar was a terrible option. Instead of getting criticized, people supported my opinion or countered my opinion while remaining professional.

This was a refreshing pace for me since in my past, my voice wasn’t always heard. However at Saint Mary’s, everyone listens which allows us to be exposed to various perspectives. Socially Finally, Saint Mary’s has helped me improve socially by providing me with people who care about my education and allowing me the opportunity to create meaningful bonds with them. In Nussbaum's book, “Education for Profit, Education for Democracy”, she convinces the audience that the current school system isn’t preparing students to participate in society. Schools are merely asking students to memorize how to do a certain task without teaching them how to think critically. The main reason behind this problem is that countries all over the world tend to overlook the quality of life of an individual for more economic gain, “Never mind about distribution and social equality, never mind about the preconditions of stable democracy, never mind about the quality of race and gender relations, never mind about the improvement of other aspects of a human being’s quality of life that are not well linked to economic growth.” (Nussbaum, “Education for Profit, Education for Democracy”, Reading the World) When reading this passage, I couldn’t help but think about my experience taking the SAT. I believe that the SAT is an idiotic test. It doesn’t test you on the material you know, but on how well you can take the test. From an academic standpoint, this makes absolutely no sense. In addition, the people who are in charge of the SAT don’t actually care about your education because they mainly care about whether or not you pay the fee to take the test. Because of this, they spend every little effort on keeping the integrity of the test. This is what caused the SAT scandal in the first place. In this scandal, celebrities bribed people so that their kids received better SAT or ACT scores. The only reason the College Admissions Scandal was a huge event not because cheating was unheard of, but rather it was because famous people were caught doing this. Even to this day, College Board hasn’t done anything to improve the security of their test after these allegations occurred. People are still cheating the same way they were before with no repercussions.

Due to my experiences with taking the SAT, I can support and relate to Nussbaum’s emotion. What eased this anger were the professors spending much of their personal time to help students understand the information that they were taught. They would host office hours at least 2 times a week and do other activities to help us learn. For instance, during the second week of school, my roommate and I had trouble understanding the difference between position vs. time graph and velocity vs. time graph. We decided to go to our professor’s office hours to see if he could help us understand the material. Professor Aaron was very helpful and patience as we struggled with our problems. Once we were finally understood these graphs, we started to ask Professor Aaron about the research he was doing. Both parties were super engaged in the conversation and we ended up losing track of time. It turns out, we went 43 minutes past his office hours. Once my roommate and I left, we were filled with a sense of satisfaction. We were finally able to understand the concept we were stuck on and we are able to better know our professor. Although my time at Saint Mary’s has been short, I feel like it has changed me for the better. I learned how to value my education, what my civic duties actually meant, how to effectively structure my criticisms, and how to find people who care about my education. I am looking forward to what the future holds at Saint Mary’s College and the journey that I have to take in order to become the ideal version of myself.