Let’s Face It

It’s hard to focus.

Springtime is arguably the prettiest time on campus (remind me this when it’s fall and I say the same thing).  But really, it is.  We are flush with daffodils, flowering cherry trees, tulips, and all manner of plants in beds around the Quad and other places.  If the azaleas in the little nooks beside Wait Chapel aren’t blooming yet, they soon will be.  The air is warm, the sun is bright.  Depending on the humidity level, you may catch a whiff of tobacco leaves from the plant nearby.  If you aren’t familiar with the smell, it’s sort of like an unrolled cigarette, just the faintly tangy smell of the tobacco itself.

It is hard to be in class when the outdoor world is so idyllic.  Every spring it seems, our students return from Spring Break and it’s like the proverbial horse who sees the barn and wants to really bolt for it.  The finish line for the semester is within sight – only six weeks or so – and there is a sort of urgency in that.

I remember being a student here and one of my English professors was teaching a seminar class to us mid-spring.  It was a beautiful day, and just outside our window was a giant blooming tree, and he got so distracted by it that he finally had to start talking about how lush and alive everything was.  He tied that into the literature we were reading, and it became a lecture that wove smoothly between the words we were reading and the explosion of nature outside our window.   This is not the exact tree in the background of this photo, but it is the closest picture I could find to the tree outside our seminar room of Tribble Hall.

I had a similar experience with another professor – also English – on that kind of beautiful spring day.  About halfway through the lecture he stopped what he was doing and wrote CARPE DIEM in huge letters on the board and told us that this is the kind of day that should be seized and celebrated.  He told us to go – and do whatever we wanted, other than homework.  Take a walk.  Look at nature.  Think about art or music or poetry or the wonders of the world, but don’t waste the time, seize it for something beautiful.   It remains one of my best memories of being a student.

I share this not to make you worry that all our English professors are flighty (they most certainly are not) or that our faculty is not making your students work hard enough (trust me, they are).  But they realize that there are learning moments in the classroom as well as out, and that sometimes we can differ from the expected path and still learn something valuable.  Even if that lesson is just to stop and appreciate the moment – something I think our students of today are not trained to do with their busy schedules.

Dr. Carpe Diem once told me that teaching gives likeminded people the opportunity to connect with each other and make ideas – and in this case literature – come alive.   That is part of the joy of college – finding yourself in sync with someone who is eager to explore the same things you are, and who pushes you to think hard and think differently about the course material.

Who is your student’s Dr. Carpe Diem?

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