As some of you may have noticed, last week there were quite a few young and eager faces on campus. Actually, most of you probably didn’t notice, as they were shuffled between interviews, mock-classes, and different adventures in Boston. But nonetheless, the little geniuses were here. That’s right, ladies and gentleman-it was Presidential Scholar Week on the Heights.
I spend a lot of time running around the admissions office, and it has given me an inside look at many different aspects of the often-cruel, yet necessary, process of getting into college. While most of my time is spent simply herding around exhausted parents and mesmerized students, please ignore the overwhelming cliche when I say I’ve also learned a lot about myself during my time in Devlin. The most mind-shattering moment came just this time last year. It was this exact weekend, and I was in the office putting together schedules. A tall blond, dressed from head to toe in J. Crew, emerged from behind the oh-so secretive back offices of admissions with a confident look, but a tear in her eye. While she tried to play it off smoothly, it was clear the interview she had just completed hadn’t gone well. As the poor now-not-a-prospective Presidential Scholar left the room, I turned to the admissions officer and gave her a questioning look. “She couldn’t answer one of my most important questions,” the counselor replied, answering the question she knew was on my mind. Intrigued, I pressed to know what could have been a tough enough query to stump a student who had probably gotten into every school to which she had applied. The counselor looked at me, shrugged, and said, “What was the first book to make her think?”
Well, I instantly knew why the poor girl had come out in tears. This was not the type of question you can simply b.s. in an interview, much less an interview that determines whether you get all of college paid for. This is a question that digs deep, asks about what shaped you and what penetrated your soul.
The truth is, we all should know the answer to this question. Not only because it could come up in a life-changing interview, but also because this book, whatever book it was, changed your life and thus, you should know what it was and how it did so.
So, take a moment. Think hard. Recall it? I’m not talking about the first time you read Dr. Seuss’ Red Fish Blue Fish or Goodnight Moon. I’m talking about the first book to get to you. It was the one that you couldn’t put down, and when you finally did, you were dumbfounded. You may have physically set it down on the desk in front of you and walked away, but you carried it with you in your thoughts for hours, days, or even months, since you turned that last page. It’s the one that is dog-eared and filled with underlines and thoughts scribbled on the side. It’s the one that made you pause in your hectic life, the one that made you re-evaluate.
Okay, so why is this book, and your consciousness of it, so important? Well, this book changed you-it challenged you. And when something affects you in such a way, you should be aware of what exactly the change entails. Maybe it changed your mind about a social concept, a political idea, or literature in general. Maybe it sparked your interest or inspired you. Maybe it made you understand what true love is, or true sacrifice.
Whatever the effect, if a text has the power to make such an impact, shouldn’t we be conscious of how the words on the page become thoughts in our minds and actions in our lives? Shouldn’t we be aware of our changed or affirmed opinions and beliefs and from where they came? Shouldn’t we know what makes us who we are?
In reality, there will be many books that change us. It’s even hard to come out of a philosophy, Perspectives, or English class on this campus with the same exact views and opinions as you held when you first walk into it. That’s one of the great benefits of Boston College and a true liberal arts education. Each and every one of these books is equally important, and we should always be aware of what causes change in our lives.
Consciousness is vital, and often it is the first thing that escapes our minds. And while I argue for the same reflective quality to be given to each book that you carry with you, there is something special about that first one. Something sacred and precious. Something to be remembered.
The first book to make me think? Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I suggest you pick it up one of these days.