Hello, readers. As I turn the final page in Douglas Admas’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and eagerly begin reading the next book in the series, I realize I haven’t yet written my blog post for this week. So, I resolve to put my book down for a few moments and come talk to you.
The book, in case you are not acquainted with its plot, discusses (and provides the answer to) the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. The answer is...forty-two.
The book does not, however, reveal the Ultimate Question. o__O
Needless to say, I’ve been thinking a lot about questions. I enjoy reading Hitchhiker’s Guide because it deals closely with the paradox of our inquiry – we think finding the Ultimate Answer will help us understand life, the universe, and everything, but we fail to ask the Question, or questions, to guide our inquiry.
I took a class this spring called the Moral Essay, for which the final paper prompt was on the Quest for Truth. It was by far my favorite paper to write of any papers I’ve ever written. But more than that, it helped me to figure out a lot of things for myself. I concluded that it is useless to seek any final answers or even the ‘Ultimate Answer’ as Douglas Adams would say, but that the point of life is in the questions – the word in its original meaning of a quest – a seeking, an inquiry.
Why am I telling you all this? At the end of our tours, as we go back down the hill towards the Admission Office, we invite visitors to contribute questions to the final round of Stump the Tour Guide. One of the questions most frequently asked is “Why did you choose Amherst?” Siiiigh…I don’t like answering this question on principle – my answer will not help you make your decision; decisions about college choices are very personal, and what is true for me may not be true for you. But to some extent, I like answering it because it allows me to talk about the following:
There are many different reasons why people choose to go to college. As you go through the application process during the fall of your senior year, you’re going to be figuring this out for yourself. It’s an important and necessary question: Why do I want to go to college? As a senior in high school, I asked myself a lot of things before I could even begin thinking about where I wanted to apply/attend. I still do that – I think it’s important to always ask ourselves why we’re doing something. Anyway, I asked myself (and you should, too), why am I going through this long and dreary application process? Why is it important? What do I want to get out of it? What do I want to get out of college? Take a moment to think about all this before you start applying anywhere.
A lot of people go to college just to get a degree. They might think that college is just a necessary intermediate step between high school and a salary, and that there is nothing more to it than that. I sincerely hope that you are not thinking about college in this way. And if you are, I beg you to reconsider. I knew I wanted to go to college to get something more out of it than a parchment diploma saying I’d completed four years on a campus. I wanted to learn for the sake of learning, and absorb as much as I could from the wise and excited minds of students and professors around me. I knew I needed a school that would allow me to do this, and for me, Amherst College would fulfill that role.
With its strong dedication to liberal arts (breadth and depth), the open curriculum, small class sizes, no graduate students, the 8:1 student to professor ratio, and incredibly diverse student body – not just geographically speaking, but in ways of thinking, too – Amherst was very attractive to me. That, in combination with its location, the Five College consortium, amazing financial aid, and its promising ability to let me find not how to think, but what to think about, is why I chose Amherst (admittedly, perhaps another small reason was that Amherst is entirely different from my high school – and I was in desperate need of a change). I knew that Amherst would help me on my quest.
Those are very personal reasons for choosing a college, so my answering your question will not help you much because your decision should be very personal, too. But my telling you that I asked the Questions before I made a decision, that will help you on your quest. In life, as in Hitchhiker’s Guide, we find that the questions are really at the core of things, and without them, no answer will make sense. So ask questions. Of everything, but especially of yourself.
And remember, DON'T PANIC!
I’ll leave you with the email I sent my residents (Stearns Hall, 4th floor) on their first day of college last fall, which includes one of my favorite passages from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet: