Should you study Plato, Epicurus, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, or even Husserl? Esthetics, politics, morality, epistemology, metaphysics? Should you devote your time to teaching, to producing a body of work, to research, to Culture? It makes no difference. The only thing that matters is your intention: are you elevating thought and contributing to the common good? Or rather joining the ranks in a field of study whose only purpose is its own perpetuation, and only function the self-reproduction of a sterile elite – for this turns the university into a sect.
– Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
I am a sophomore at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, studying secondary education, history and Spanish. It’s still really ridiculously exciting to write those words, because this was my dream. Dreams don’t always come true, and when they do, I get excited!
I had no limits to where I applied to college because I’m not from anywhere in particular. In fact, my mom’s rule was that as long as we knew one person in the area, location was irrelevant to my college decision. Far from home, close to home – it didn’t matter. So I visited my cousins in Nashville, visited Belmont because my aunt & uncle recommended it, and visited Vanderbilt because I wanted to. And found I was there to stay.
“Where are you from?” is the first question you ask when you meet someone new, because location is the easiest way to form connections. I don’t have a good answer to that question. I was born in Kentucky, moved 7 times, graduated from high school in Indiana, and was in the middle of another transition when I left for college. So while most people are so ready to go back to their hometown, walk the same streets, see the same people, catch up with high school and even childhood friends – I’m not. I come home ready to see my family, have my own room, a bigger closet and a queen-sized bed. I go to my parents’ hometowns to see my grandparents. I go to my friends’ hometowns to see my friends.
I go to Vanderbilt for me.
This is what I see every day when I look out my window from the 13th floor of Towers. I can’t even begin to tell you how happy it makes me.
I have made Vanderbilt my home, Nashville my hometown. I never thought I could live 8 hours from my family, in a big city, at a prestigious university, in the marching band, founding a service organization, in a Christian sorority, finding my own church, building my own community – but I have. I guess that’s how you know it’s home. But since my self-proclaimed home is on a college campus, I have to dig a little deeper than that.
I love this quote from The Elegance of the Hedgehog (a fabulous book for the deep thinker in all of us) that specifically describes what turns the university from a home into a formal, fractured entity (best rephrasing I can manage of “sect”). In one of my history classes this semester, we discussed what it meant for history to exist on its own as a field of study. Did it serve to explain the past or foreshadow the future? Did it represent the thoughts of its contemporaries or the thoughts of our contemporaries, today’s academic authors? It was a fascinating discussion, because at its core, it asks: does the university, heart of the academic world, serve only to perpetuate its own purposes? Does education only serve to educate? I could go on, were it not for Muriel Barbery.
The answer depends on your intention. If you see education, college, schooling as the means to an end (career, success, fulfillment), you will only be disappointed, and you will only further alienate the university from its true purpose. If you are looking to elevate your thinking and that of the world around you as well as contribute to something bigger than yourself – the university can and will become your home.
As it has mine. It’s here that I experience life on my own terms, and stumble across other people and things that contribute to my journey as a new romantic. How about that for a view?