Robyn Ross '99
sort of imitating art. Seniors Robyn Ross, right, and Lesley Hilton
do a reverse version of American Gothic, with Lesley's mother's shadow
adding extra, uh, poignancy.
Lesley came up with a song that had one word and one note. Without the
expertise of a voice major or even the knowledge of how to read music,
I can tell you how it sounds on paper: "We... are. . . learning learning
learning learning. . . " are the words. Pick any key, any octave,
and start a couple of notes higher than you want the rest of the song
"We. . . are. . . " descend by increments of one or two notes at
a time and then keep the "learning learning learning" at the same beautiful
monotone. Sing as long as you want, ideally in direct proportion to the
amount of learning you've done recently.
up with this song as she and a group of classmates were walking from one
room to another during a theatre course. It caught on for a little while
with them but soon faded like most fads. Lesley and I, however, and an elite
group of friends in the know, have kept the learning alive. It's become
wish to repeat what admissions brochures may tell us about how as much
learning takes place outside of class as inside it. Or about how social
opportunities help us learn about other kinds of people or extracurricular
activities help us learn skills that will help us in the real world. That's
all true, in a cute, sort of sweatshirt way. But "learning learning learning"
is something that I stumbled upon at the end of my junior year.
of high school,for the few weeks preceding graduation, I passed a small,
smooth book with a pink-flowered cover among my senior friends for them
to sign. Someone wrote, "I'm sure college will hold many more opportunities
for you than high school." Seeing it there, in clear black handwriting
between the lines of my book, with an unblemished 12-year academic career
under my belt, I felt empowered. Yes, I thought, I will step out into
the world with clean shoes and tied shoelaces and face what it's got to
offer. And tap into it and make it mine.
work out that way, not at first. My freshman year, and even parts of the
next one, were consumed largely with the kind of superficial learning
that is fascinating in the classroom but stays there. Real learning, I
have found, is learning for the sake of finding things out on my own,
outside of class, outside of Habitat for Humanity, outside of anything
but simply those personal discoveries that get us excited about life.
Learning as in, let's go to the library and read those assorted articles
that were referenced in the textbook and that sounded interesting. Let's
go to a different church and see what the people are like. Let's write
a screenplay just because we can, and then host a reading of it on campus.
I have had late-night meetings and discussions that lasted into the tiny
hours of the morning. We talked about what we'd seen and heard that day
with the reckless abandon of two kids going to the local fire station
for the first time, or watching Mr. Rogers' visit to the Crayola factory.
We could ask people questions; we could find out how things worked. Lesley
and I started to make it a point to go to virtually every on-campus event
we could, even if we'd never considered the Parabola mathematics organization
intriguing before. Major on-campus speakers who previously might not have
seemed as important were now unthinkable to miss. Obscure lectures sponsored
by the English department were suddenly an opportunity to expand our perspective
on famous writers or morality in public education. When the Women's Symposium
began, we met at my apartment and outlined all the lectures we wanted
to attend, and when we could trade the knowledge gained from each one.
provided for me a palette on which to mix and blot my burgeoning interests,
but being so buoyant it was impossible to drag me down. College, like
that high school classmate wrote, did hold infinitely more opportunities
than high school; they just had to be tackled with a water-resistant mentality.
explain what happens when you realize the world really is opening up to
you the way you'd always thought it would is hard. Maybe it's easier to
enumerate the visible consequences. I want to be a teacher now, at various
levels, at various colleges and high schools and nations. I want to join
the Peace Corps or Teach for America or both. I have ideas and excitement
to impart, and sometimes it's incredibly urgent. As Lesley said, calling
me from her hometown over the summer, "I woke up last night and couldn't
go back to sleep because I had to be a high school teacher right then.
I had so many ideas, and they couldn't wait." Youthful and idealistic,
maybe, but isn't that what we need more of?
I hope "learning
learning learning" sticks around. Once you've seen how much the world
has to offer, how even simple ideas mean so much, how much complex scholarship
you yourself can write, how many people you need to talk to because every
one will change your world and you will make a nick in all of theirs,
I don't see how it can close down. It's like now that I've allowed myself
to see this flood of interest and mystery in life, and I've got some people
who will carry it along with me, there are fewer reasons to be unhappy.
Expanding with the curiosity is an almost spiritual connection with the
miracle of daily events. It's like reading life as fiction, a reality
as exciting as art. We become so amazed at long books that tell the intricate
story of a family saga, with all its twists and tangles and romantic subplots,
that we don't recognize where they came from: the life outside. I can't
capture all the details that are folded into each day's path of existence.
I catch a few, to write about, to ponder, to discuss, and the rest have
to wash away. Like a saying that held enormous power when Lesley and I
analyzed it: "Take what you want (or can) and leave the rest." We don't
have to be overcome by everything. We can sort through the important stuff
and learn to marvel at the details.
In the fall
Lesley and I are going to London for the semester, to explore and get
lost on ships and find strange flowers in strange gardens and walk into
intricate buildings with miraculous people. Going different places has
such a question-quenching quality but at the same time opens up even more
ways to thirst. It's like walking into a library and finding the answer
in the very book you came to look it up in, and then glancing behind you
to the rows and rows of looming shelves where much of the world is caught
between pages, waiting to spring up at you in tiny characters dripping
with meaning. It's a rush, of words, of emotions, of how young you are
yet how old you are and how much there is to get done just because it's
an adventure. I can't walk away from it, not anymore.
Ross is a journalism and English senior from Marble Falls. You may write
to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.