October 1, 2013
The College of the Humanities opening ceremonies are a thing of beauty. About 50 first year students, all buzzing with excitement, find their way into the Humanities Lecture Hall (which has THE most comfortable seats on campus, hands down). They look to each other with a sense of nervousness, as they pick a seat that will likely be their home for nine hours each week for the next four years. Who you group yourself with doesn’t matter because, with only about 50 students in each year of the program, it would be impossible not to learn every person’s name and story.
Living on the Creative Arts and Humanities themed floor in my first year of residence, I recall meeting people who lived off campus on that first day. Living in this themed community provides Humanities students with another space for discussion outside of the classroom, where you don’t need to raise your hand and where it is entirely appropriate to debate the meaning of Plato over a late-night absurdly sugary Rolo chocolate cone purchased at Abstentions (the convenience store located in residence).
Back to the opening ceremonies! Once the frantic seat-finding ceases, students begin to look around at the mahogany walls lined with pieces of art collected from around the world. This art has been collected by the College’s wonderful professors who are either sitting in the audience sipping coffees, or standing at the front of the lecture hall waiting to welcome their students (also sipping coffees). The Director of the College, Farhang Rajaee will, in his booming voice, say, “Welcome everyone! Today is a special day. Today is the day you will begin your degree in Humanities, and you will be officially inducted into the College.”
But, what exactly is a degree in Humanities? You are lucky I am going to give you an answer now, because that summer before you come to Carleton this will be your most frequently-asked question. Humanities is a great books program. In the span of four years, I will read all the great texts of history. I will probe the ideas inside them, and I will take something different away from each one. I will be able to pick apart each text for its true meaning and spirit, and I will learn a life-lesson every time. My written assignments don’t just ask me to regurgitate what’s in the books, but require me to be a critical thinker and write an irrefutable argument.
I will also be taking humanities-only culture courses. In first year I will take world religion classes, in second year I will learn about visual art from around the world, in third year I will experience the evolution of Western music, and in fourth year I will learn about the history of science. At the end of it all, I will be a global citizen who habitually probes beneath the surface of any assumption with a sharp, critical eye.
At the end of the opening ceremonies, students will hear a recent graduate of the College tell them about how they went on to become an international lawyer, a UN delegate, or a high-powered publishing executive. No matter what their career paths, they all made the same commitment to take what they have learned in the Humanities program out with them into the world. They have a duty to remain a skeptic and a critic – to question the entrenched ideologies that define success and failure, and to reside outside of the box. They have promised to always keep an open mind, to see both sides of every coin, and to be as thoughtful as they are opinionated. Humanities students have sworn to use a liberal arts education to become the best versions of themselves and to change the world around them. The fruition of this promise is the best thing about the Humanities program, besides the great professors, the small classes, the Humanities residence floor, and by far the most comfortable chairs on campus.
On the class of 2014’s roster, you will find the name “Samantha Tibshirani.” I will be posting blogs every month about the College of the Humanities for prospective students. Next month, fun faculty activities.