Musings of the Unknown
About The Study
One of the most important tasks for the first-year college student involves finding—or more to the point—making time for contemplation. The first year of college is so saturated with change and newness that it’s tremendously easy for a student to fall into a kind of survival mode: a mindset of getting through the year as best as they are able to, assuming that there will be time further down the road to reflect on the significance of the copious changes and insights the first year of college brings.
The best students know that without contemplation and reflection, the purpose of an education is diluted at best. These exceptional students find a way to set aside time for contemplation, to forge connections between their education and the rest of their lives in purposeful and important ways.
Students in my first-year seminar spend the first several weeks encountering ideas that contemplate identity, creating artwork, and analyzing how the work they’ve created responds to the ideas they’re exploring. It’s a lot of thinking, talking, creating and thinking about what they create. At some point I expect a kind of shift in the quality of work that students bring in, a time when creative work doesn’t come as easily or as quickly as it did in week two or three of the semester—rather, it’s carved, mined, achieved only through a certain amount of diligence. At this point, the work is hard won, but the ideas reflect genuinely new insights. The best students, like Karin, understand this, and what’s more they’re up for the challenge. They spend time in contemplation, hunkered down to make the kind of work that teaches them something only they could teach themselves.
Karin reached this point rather quickly. Although Karin was not majoring in music (she was studing film editing), throughout the first several weeks of the semester she impressively wrote and recorded one new song per week (or thereabouts). Each song explored a different idea we were contemplating in the seminar, and all of them were compelling. As she created this work, she began to piece together how all of the ideas behind these songs fit into a larger kind of metaphor, noting that the evolution of self, like the seasons, is a simultaneously cyclical and linear process. Intellectually, the insights Karin explored spanned a complex network of ideas, from James Joyce to Carl Jung. But importantly, beyond an intellectual understanding, Karin also came to recognize the power of her expressive voice and her music to articulate deep meaning, the kind of meaning that words can't always describe as well as art is able to. She embraced this medium as a path for contemplation and discovery beautifully, blending intellect, affect and intuition; and her music has potential to continue to teach her for years to come.