Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Create Passion Before Résumés

We are just finishing our first full week back at school, and already I feel overwhelmed by required readings. I am in three classes that assign a novel (not a novella, a novel) per week. My other two classes feature three 8:50 a.m. lectures per week, a biology lab and endless pages of world history. Those 17 credits, when tethered to a boatload of extracurricular activities, mean that this ship is sinking fast. I already feel so far behind.

I write about my problems for two reasons: First, because it’s therapeutic, and it helps me sleep at night; second, to illustrate how stupid I am to complain.

I was in Lauinger in the wee hours of Monday morning when I finished “Human Rights: A Very Short Introduction” (the title is deceiving) and picked up the next book, Uwem Akpan’s collection of short stories, “Say You’re One of Them.” Eyes squinting, spine lapsing, brain humming on Tazo “Awake” tea, my pale, death-cold fingers pried open the first pages, and – under the drone of fluorescent lights – I began to read the first story, “An Ex-Mas Feast.”

Immediately, I was transported to the slums of Nairobi and the delicate but demanding rain, tough tarpaulin lean-tos and wide-eyed but knowing child prostitutes. My cubicle suddenly smelled of “New Suntan shoe glue” and sewage, condensed milk and stray dogs. With the help of Akpan’s words, I spent Christmas night with this bedraggled and indigent Kenyan family, pickpocketing a rawboned taxi driver and tripping on glue fumes to fight off hunger.

I finished the short story absolutely floored, startled and gasping for more amid the smothering silence of the first floor of Lau at 3:30 a.m. I walked out of the front doors Рmy vision blurred by hours of reading Рinto a soft mist and felt suddenly very alive. Something about the book stirred me, and I felt like crying or yelling or laughing. (Thank you, professor Forch̩!).

I relate this overly romantic story to make two points. First, everyone should have this experience. Every student – young and old – should be moved by their education to the point of a quasi-religious experience that reveals a different light. From Latin, the word “educate” means “to bring out” – from ex- (out) and ducere (to lead); an education should inspire an epiphany and bring out insight from within. Whether it is fiction or finance, derivatives or diagramming sentences, our education must generate knowledge and create meaning – both better ourselves and so that we may help others do the same.

Included in – and essential to – this notion of education as powerful insight is a challenge to your philosophy, an opening of your eyes to the world, and an expansion of your horizons. Whatever cliché you use, nothing can detract from the imperative nature of this intellectual growth; the maturity of this kind of “worldliness” is crucial to the attainment of wisdom.

Second, if your classes, syllabuses and professors do not elicit this response from you, you are doing yourself a disservice. You are wasting your time and talents that could – that need – to be better spent. For me, it is great works of fiction and nonfiction – beautifully crafted with succulent sentences, flavorful characters and melt-into-your-mind motifs – that enhance my education. But for others, it might be musing on mitosis and meiosis or hablando en español del futuro de Haití. Regardless of what it is, discover it, nurture it and challenge it.

The distribution requirements of a liberal arts degree are instrumental to this self-discovery, and at Georgetown, particularly in Georgetown College, we’re blessed with a wide enough curriculum that even a general education class can, at the very least, interest you.

That word “interest” is key. Also from Latin, it comes from interresse, meaning “to concern, make a difference, be of importance.” What interests us – and by extension, what courses we should take – must make a difference in our lives and must teach us something of importance. That difference may be a hard lesson learned, triggered by an idea that revolts you. Even when that is the case, let that idea start a revolution within you, or at least rouse you to review why it revolted you in the first place. To let such an opportunity go by is an atrocity.

I challenge you to drop your minor, let go of your second major and forget that certificate. If you are restricted by your academic program, then you have missed the point. Never again in your life will you have the unfettered freedom to learn and explore as you do now. To paraphrase the shrewdly brilliant Mark Twain, don’t let your schooling interfere with your education.

Conor Finnegan is a sophomore in the College. He can be reached at On The Road appears every other Friday.

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