Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 13, 1997

Alone in Reflection
on a Friday Night

Stacey Patton
An Undergraduate Life

A Gazette series offering
a first-person account of
an undergrad experience

Two Friday evenings ago I was in my room lying on my bed that is too small for me. It was the only space in my room that wasn't occupied by books, papers, CDs, clothes or dishes of some sort. While flipping through the CD changer with my remote, I was desperately trying to figure out what I was going to do with myself. Friday nights are golden around here.

Thirty CDs later I finally found a song that I was in the mood for. "Cold Feet" by Tracy Chapman poured into the confines of my room. Occasionally I heard a knock on the other side of the wall. It was my roommate's code for "Turn it down, Stacey" or "You know I don't like that kind of music." Oh the joys of having a roommate that has only one thing in common with you--you both live in the same place.

The night was growing older, and Chapman's CD was coming to an end. She does the kind of song that makes you think about life, the whole reason for it and why you're in it. My roommates drank up and left the apartment. There I was alone, just me and my thoughts bouncing off each other and enjoying each other's company.

Sitting up on my bed I gazed around the room. On one wall Langston Hughes stared down at me. His eyes, the ones whose soul the flash froze, told me that I really needed to write some poetry. It had been a long time since I wrote anything new. On the opposite wall W.E.B. Dubois seconded that notion, but he wasn't interested in poetry; he wanted more concrete writing.

Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Hemingway, Kafka, Chekhov, Ellison and a wide spectrum of other literary greats stood together on the second ledge of my bookshelf. It seemed like they were some kind of choir swaying on my bookshelf singing to me and urging me to throw the week's worth of clothes off my chair, clear the desktop and put my pen to work.

Right next to my bookshelf the three red crates stacked on top of each other held my school books. They joined in on the choir's crescendo singing, "Knowledge is Power." The photographs of friends and people I consider family kept their places on the wall held by scotch tape, tacks or that stuff that looks like gum. The pictures didn't say anything. The smiles and poses and eyes of the people didn't move. But just their frozen looks reminded me that they were all expecting the best for and from me.

Midnight had finally arrived. I missed Dateline. It was too late to call anyone who wasn't a college student. So I bounced back down on my bed and let my thoughts play around in my head. Langston, Dubois, Angelou and her choir, and my school books silenced. All I could think about was the three books I had to have read by Wednesday, the paper that was due on Tuesday, the French quiz next Friday, basketball practice on Monday and then whatever else I could find time to finally finish.

Throughout the hodge-podge of thoughts that swam in my head, one question rose to the surface. Why? Why am I in college?

Right then I discovered the reason. It's funny because it seems like I should have discovered it during my freshman year or even before I came to Hopkins. My reason for attending college is not solely based on the prospects of raising my standard of living thereafter. The reason is not based on abstract theories, which have no place in subjective reality. And the reason is most certainly not to learn how to apply Westernized ideologies or concepts to the way I conduct my life. But my reason is based on what I think is the idea of the university.

Theoretically speaking, the purpose of the university is to bring together people from all walks of life. The ultimate hope is that such exposure will in turn equip rising generations with not just intellectual capabilities but with common sense, a sense of reality, open minds, sensitivity and a willingness to cross over into a foreign terrain.

My experience as a student here at Hopkins tells me that it is a very scientific community. I don't mean scientific in terms of chemistry, engineering or pre-med programs. I mean scientific in interaction, goals and people's perspective on the universe and the people in it. Some students come to Hopkins just to get from point A to Z. Their entire experience is filled with duality--either this or that. There is no room in between.

The classes I am taking this semester have been helping me see that the world is not a system of duality. In my Islam and Modern Abrahamic Religion class I've learned that things like religion, race, culture and language sometimes keep people from learning about people who are different than they are. Now, I'm proud to say that I am an atheist, and I know why. But I can still say that the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, etc., are the greatest literary metaphors ever written by mankind.

My Racial Grotesque class has taught me to look at historical novels to learn how the past determines what kind of people we are and what kind of society we live in today. French has made me realize the importance of learning someone else's language and culture so that I can have the ability to immerse myself in their world and appreciate their similarities and differences.

A course called A Writer's Journal has inspired me to keep my own journal so that years from now I can look back and see what kind of a person I was at age 19. I have also learned to look at authors like Virginia Woolf, who I have despised for so long, to find bits and pieces of myself, no matter how complex their stories or lives may have been.

The one course that tops them all though is Opinion Writing. In that class there are left- and right-wing, conservative and liberal, prejudiced and non-prejudiced people. For two hours every Wednesday night we argue, we yell, we disagree. Everyone paints his/her world and throws it onto the table. Whether one disagrees or not is never the question. What is resolved in the end is the fact that when we leave the classroom at night we are all reminded that someone else has a different perspective on people, culture, life, and the universe. And to learn those differences is the reason why I'm in college.

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