I remember beginning my college search process around this time 4 years ago (wow, I cannot BELIEVE I just typed that). I didn’t have a lot of guidance or advice, I didn’t tour any schools. I was applying to college on the basis of what programs they had (I’ve had my heart set on a BA/BFA dual degree program since I was about 12), and I did almost no research beyond that. All that mattered to me at the time was that I could get a good arts education and a good “normal” education and not go into enormous debt doing it. Of the many schools I applied to and was accepted to, I ended up at Tufts on account of it being my best option for both areas, and I showed up here on day 1 entirely by myself. It was my first airplane ride on my own, and my first time in Boston.
Very quickly though, I came to understand that finding the right college for you is a lot more than just picking a program or a major. College is, in fact, a 4 year long period where you have space to grow into who you want to be, and it’s not always going to be sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it’s going to be really, really hard, and you’re going to be really, really stressed. This is where having a strong community comes in, and where a collaborative and supportive academic environment can become really important. No matter where you go to school, you’re probably not going to be the same person in a year, and definitely not after 4 years– and this should be a good thing!
Let’s flashback to my freshman year. I was in my first philosophy class, and we were assigned our first midterm. It was my first paper at college, it was 6 pages. I was super intimidated and really wanted to get it right, and I worked hard on it for a week, but then I had a tournament with the Tufts Taekwondo team at Cornell the weekend before it was due. That meant that we ended up getting back at about 5 a.m. Monday morning, and the paper was due at 9 a.m.. I also didn’t sleep on the bus ride because I stayed up editing the paper. I woke myself up at 7 a.m. and kept working at it. Despite all my nervous editing and rewriting it was a pretty bad paper, largely due to my long weekend and my refusal to ask for advice on how to write a paper in college. The next week in class, someone mentioned having an extension. I sat there for a minute, feeling dumb. Why hadn’t I asked for an extension? I had a good reason after all. The real reason was that I didn’t want to admit I needed extra time; I was shy and didn’t know how to talk to my professors yet, or any authority for that matter.
Fast forward to sophomore year, I’m in another philosophy class (I’m a philosophy major at this point, by the way). This one is mostly grad students, with a professor who was calmly brilliant, and intimidated me even more than the last. All of us were sitting in our usual circle of desks waiting for him to come in, and wondering if he was going to push back the deadline for our next 8 page paper, since it was due in a week and he hadn’t given us the assignment yet. Me and my friend looked at each other.
“You should ask!”
“No you should!”
He came in and sat down, handing out the paper topic first. We all looked at it nervously. He looked around at us, “Does that all look good to you guys?”. My hand went up.
“Can we have a little bit more time?”
“Of course, how much more time were you thinking?”I blinked. It was really that simple.
“Can we have 2 weeks?”
“Sounds good, it’s due the following Monday then.”
Everyone else in the room, all of whom were older and more academically vetted than I, looked at me as if I had just pulled them from a blazing building.
Now it’s my junior year. I’m in yet another philosophy class, and this one is all about Aristotle. It is also mostly graduate students, and it was taught be two intimidatingly brilliant, friendly professors. I’m not nearly as enthralled with Aristotle as some of the people in this class were, but I was really interested in his ideas about the highest good and the activity of living well. He refers to this act as contemplation, and sets forth a whole argument about what it can and cannot entail in order to serve as the highest human good. They gave us several topics that we could write about for our final paper, and while I was still interested in the ones that dealt with contemplation, I was having a hard time coming up with 10 pages worth of material to talk about that didn’t feel repetitive of the same ideas we’d discussed in class. I had been thinking about this class in the context of my Aesthetics class and how Aristotle’s idea of contemplation felt very connection to art and art making, particularly the contemporary idea of an artist’s practice. As an art student and a philosophy student, this was the intersection my entire life seemed to revolve around, and I wanted to see what it might contain. I started to get excited. I went to my professor’s office hours and made my pitch. I proposed that I alter one of the topics a bit in order to write about the shared qualities between the artist practice and Aristotle’s definition of contemplation, and in doing so, pull apart some of the holes in the theory itself. We talked it through, she suggested I look into some more of his work in Metaphysics, but she gave me the all clear. Usually, I have to drag myself through my final papers a little bit, but this time I was excited. I was telling my friends about it in my free time, and some of my fellow art students even asked to read it when I finished.
Learning about yourself is slow, no one is there to point it out to you all the time. At some point you look up and realize that you are a different person, whether it be in a big way or a little way. I remember being 18 years old just 3 short, short years ago and thinking that I finally had a pretty solid grasp on my identity and what my passions were, and that I was ready to go to college and to have my “real life” start. Turns out I didn’t know everything about myself yet at 18. Shocker.
My time at Tufts has taught me a lot. I just did some quick math and I have taken 28 classes so far. That’s a lot of liberal arts education. And I would still say that I have learned more about myself as a person than I have about the world and its various areas of academia, and in that sense, Tufts has truly been the right school for me.