The following excerpt is from an assignment that I wrote for my literature capstone course in which the goal was to reflect on our time spent at Concordia College and the liberal arts education. There is much more that needs to be said concerning some of the experiences that I was fortunate enough to have and the many, amazing individuals whom I was able to meet and befriend, but that will be saved for a later post.
William Deresiewicz poses the question in an essay he wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education, “…it becomes increasingly difficult to remember who you once were?” Reflecting upon this question has incited fond memories of a childhood of carefree and uninfluenced exploration, and also the question: Where has the boy who used to draw houses run off to, who used to spend hours in the woods climbing trees and having stick fights? Many things have changed since I was five, ten, even eighteen-years-old, right before heading off to college, but in essence, a desire for creative liberty and a curiosity for exploration are characteristics that have lasted over the years. What has changed, however, is the medium through which these characteristics have been channeled and honed, and new traits have been adopted along the way. The liberal arts education has helped to facilitate that process and foster a deeper understanding and respect for that which I am passionate about.
Often when I meet someone new at Concordia, I ask them what other schools that they had considered going to. St. Olaf is almost always among the other places that they were considering going to. It is where I wanted to study as well, but after not receiving enough money, I chose to go to the University of Minnesota to study biology. Like 95% of all science majors in their first semester of undergrad, I had my sights set on medical school and becoming a doctor. Those plans disintegrated quickly after my first semester of college-level chemistry. The placement exam should have been enough to convince me that a science career was not the right fit, having been placed in an introduction class to Chemistry I, but I was pretty attached to the idea. After a rough semester of the lowest grades that I had ever received, I decided that holding onto such unrealistic goals was a waste of time. When the time to pick spring semester classes came around, I decided to start living more intentionally by choosing only classes that interested me, in essence returning to the childhood of carefree and uninfluenced exploration.
It was the right move. Among the courses that I took were creative writing and French, two areas of study that I am proud to call my current major and minor. It was a relief of sorts. There was no more worrying about getting into medical school, fewer, what I like to call, mid-day crises, and I can describe the feeling of studying what I wanted to be studying as contentment, for the most part. The intentionality was taken a step further when I realized that I was not locked into studying at the University of Minnesota. This realization came during the summer of 2010. I was looking for a small private college, not necessarily a liberal arts college, but one with an English program, a French program, and a cross country team that I could be a part of.
Sustainability became an interest of mine at Concordia. Because the chemistry course I took at the U of M did not have a lab component, I was required to still fulfill 1 course in science with a lab practicum. Environmental science was one of the few courses that would fit with my schedule, so I chose it. Through this science class I was able to visit the BioHaus situated on Waldsee’s grounds, the German-immersion summer camp of Concordia Language Villages. There we learned about sustainable architecture, and I was introduced to a former student at Concordia who greatly impacted my thinking. At the time, he was the current Student Environmental Alliance co-president, and as we talked on the 3 hour van-ride home and became closer the weeks following the trip to the BioHaus, I got to learn more about becoming involved on campus, being a part of and engaging with it.
Soon after, I joined the Student Environmental Alliance, found myself one of two garden interns during the summer, on my way to Washington D.C. to attend a convention called Power Shift, centered around greening college campuses, and standing atop a mountain in Kentucky, looking across at another mountain that had been leveled for coal extraction. Aside from the environmental experiences, I also took on a writing position for the Concordian and became heavily involved in the French Club, leading as Vice President the spring of my junior year before going to study in France in the fall. It is impossible to recount all the ways in which I have benefited from such a diverse 3 years spent at Concordia. Among these benefits, however, is a stronger sense of self and confidence in my abilities as a leader and motivator, an ability to communicate well, both written and orally, in English and French, and a curiosity that I never had before. This curiosity is not only attributed to the diverse array of classes that I had taken, it is also the byproduct of being able to live off-campus with individuals majoring in biology to religion, to political science and sociology. Get-togethers at our house not only involved endless amounts of homemade Italian pasta and good wine, but outstanding, dynamic conversation in which those whom I was with would critique Concordia’s administration, challenge one another, and discuss issues concerning the world at large. It is by being surrounded by individuals from all areas of academia, constantly dialoging with one another, that I have been able to come across more issues of interest and a venue through which to discuss them.
After graduating from Concordia, I plan to do a summer internship, June through August, with a program called Summer of Solutions. I will be working in South Minneapolis with low-income neighborhoods to help them develop various environmental projects, a bike-share program, the development of an urban garden, canvassing for the promotion of an environmental shift in Minneapolis’ manufacturing, etc. After that, I would like to continue practicing French, learning other languages, and writing. Uncertain about where all of these interests will take me, the mid-day crises from my first year at the University of Minnesota are not an issue. I feel confident through the education that I have received, the skills, and the support network, that everything will work itself out. In essence, I have relocated the boy who used to climb trees and smear mud on his face, who would spend hours drawing houses and wanted nothing more than to be given permission to bike a little farther from home. I would never have predicted the past four years to be what they have been. Thus, I have learned it is best to remain open and flexible to what is to come.