For me, it all began on the first day of my freshman year, when I accidentally found myself in a 400-level history class.
Courtly Dr. Ulrich welcomed us to his Civil War and Reconstruction class, briskly outlining what he called his “contract”—the work a student would have to do to receive a particular grade in his class. I soon realized I was surrounded by seniors and even a couple of graduate students.
Afterward, I meekly approached the professor, telling him that as a freshman I was obviously not supposed to be here, and that I would of course have to withdraw. “Well, you just heard what you’ll have to do to pass the class, so you’re welcome to stay if you like,” he replied.
His matter-of-fact tone stunned me. This teacher, three times my age, was treating me as an adult, supplying me with the relevant information, but leaving the decision up to me. Welcome to college.
I remained in that class, sparking a lifelong fascination with the subject. I went on to major in history, which led to an interest in writing, which became my lifelong career.
But it all began with that spark from Dr. Ulrich. It was later fanned by my time as a Carroll News editor, and finally brought into full flame by hours of reading the public bulletin boards in the humanities department offices, where some discerning person had clipped and posted dozens of wonderful articles from leading publications. These articles—about history, philosophy, travel and ideas –expanded my horizons tremendously in that pre-Internet era. They fed my curiosity.
For humanities majors especially, the world is quick to ask you “what are you going to do with that?” It’s an understandable question, doubly so in a difficult economy. But I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to attend a Jesuit university, where learning for its own sake and not merely as preparation for a career was taken for granted.
The Jesuits have five centuries of experience in stubbornly insisting on a model that broadly educates the person rather than treating college as mere vocational training. They understand that it’s all about finding that intellectual spark that ignites a lifetime of learning. When that happens, people will find what they are meant to do.
Given the pace of change in the world, if college teaches you only two things—what you’re most interested in and how to learn—then you’re well-armed for the rest of your life.
Today, my two sons are on their own college journeys. One went the business school route, majoring in marketing. I’m pleased that he got to do so at a Jesuit university. Today, he’s newly embarked on a job he loves. My other son, still in college, seems set on a humanities path. I’m thrilled that he’s become a sponge, swallowing books and magazines, and is just plain turned on by learning.
I think the rest will take care of itself nicely.