A reflection on my academic life

There are three colleges in the area where I live: Hollins, Roanoke, and Tech. We get a good many Tech students and faculty into our store, and I work with a few representatives of the other schools. One of the girls working with me yesterday is an English major and a writing center tutor. During the course of one of our conversations, I asked her if she was learning anything new and exciting. “Not really,” was the reply, “not anything exciting.” This surprised me because I know, from experience, that both give you ample opportunity to learn. Maybe I’m just nostalgic because I can no longer sit in a classroom and talk about thoughts and ideas. Looking back on my senior year, I can’t honestly say that I was excited to get out of bed and go to class every morning, but I feel like I was genuinely excited and eager to learn once I got there.

That being said, I wish I could take my attitude towards learning my senior year, and go back to my Victorian Lit class sophomore year, or any other class, really. Knowing what I know now, I am confident my educational experience would have been very different. Rather than finding the material old, boring, and dry, I would have found a way to relate the themes or ideas to my modern life. If I could do my undergraduate years again, knowing what I know now, everything would have seemed relevant.

I wish I knew why the idea that older literature can be relevant, that education crosses into every area of our lives, didn’t reach me until I was a senior. I don’t think it was because no professor told me, or encouraged this, though some have pushed and encouraged their students to think this way more than others. In part, I think it was my own outlook on education. I did what was required of me, and only what was required, and simply showed up, ready to take notes, but not really ready to engage in the material. But, I had no idea I needed to do more. No one had ever told me that if I read something once, and didn’t understand it, that I wasn’t stupid, that I needed to read it again. If I had even suspected this was what most people did to understand a work, I think I would have done it along time ago. I never tried reading poetry, an epic work, or even an older work out loud until my junior year. Now I wonder how much more I would have enjoyed “The Canterbury Tales,” or “Utopia,” if I had only read aloud.

At least now I know. I’ve learned that education always surrounds us, and every opportunity offers us something new to ponder and think critically about. I take great comfort in knowing I don’t need a classroom to be educated and academic, though I’m finding that it certainly does help.


One Response

  1. Hi Mary Catherine (I’m seized by a sudden doubt–did I get the second part of your name right? I’ve got a Mary-Kathryn in another class and I’m confident I’ve mixed you up–please forgive me if so–I do remember you very well!):

    That’s the world’s longest salutation, but it’s simply to say hello and to tell you that I’ve enjoyed catching up on your blog. I’m delighted you’re still out there in the blogosphere. Brad from our FTC class has started his blog up again. I’m behind in mine but will have several entries soon, God willing. Will you be coming back for graduation? It’d be great to say hello in person. Glad to know Roanoke is treating you well, or at least pretty well.

    I’m also writing to say that I’m leaving UMW again. (Will I ever learn? Ah, no.) I’ve taken a job at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. I’ll be a tenured prof in the Honors college, as well as Director of the Academy for Teaching and Learning. It’s a new program and a great opportunity, so off we go. Our son is going to college, and our daughter is going to high school, so it’s a good time to make the move. But oh the logistics.

    Anyway, thanks for continuing to share your sweet self with the world. And thanks for this meditation on your academic life. You’ve taught me some things here, things I’ll be sharing with my future students. I’m grateful to you.

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