by Paige Wetzel, 2nd year MTS candidate
Blank. I wouldn’t say I came to VDS open-minded, just blank. When I began my studies last year, I had few expectations and even fewer ideas about what my time here would be like. Like a fresh piece of paper, I was clear and vacant, uncertain of what would be written upon the page. I had just finished my undergraduate degree and had little idea what I would do with it. As I began my coursework, I found myself continually confused as to where my master’s degree should take me and how my classes were moving me in a meaningful direction.
These questions continued to plague me, but I became increasingly more interested in one class which addressed social justice issues. When I began questioning my motives for attending graduate school or my ability to finish my degree, that class reminded me that I was learning vocationally valuable material during my time here. Even though the image was a bit fuzzy, I realized that lessons on social issues and work in metropolitan communities would be vital to whatever work I do. No matter what job I took—love, justice, and people would be at the center of my work. I slowly realized that my page was becoming a bit less blank.
My other classes seemed to lack meaning and relevance to my vocational hopes. I enjoy learning new ideas, but these classes lacked the excitingly applicable nature of the other. They often felt like black, typed words falling into straight lines on my page. But during those two hours every week in a class on justice in society I experienced all the colors, angles, and shapes of creating vocational possibilities. It was like painting freely upon a new canvas and having the entire color spectrum at my fingertips. My other classes seemed droll in comparison, but I could not shrug them off as merely fulfilling a requirement. How could they possibly animate me in the way this other class did? In short, they could not.
But I had a choice before me: I could allow my lack of enthusiasm to persist and I could persevere for the sake of finishing, or I could see this as a greater opportunity for learning. As I searched for something more than information in my classes, I began to connect the dots. I realized that monks had meaningful things to teach me about addressing social issues and that my exegetical paper could be its own work of art. The colors had been around me all along, waiting to be discovered.
First-year students, I offer you a humble suggestion: Discover the colors of your educational experience and paint the page. Find the things that light up your eyes and make you talk really fast. Find the classes where you really enjoy the assigned readings. Then find a way to express the excitement in whatever colors you see fit. Explore the different nuances of your experiences at VDS. You never need to have a black-and-white class if you are willing to explore the hues of gray and the tinges of purple and green that are inevitably present. Allow yourself to be surprised at the colors you find and where you find them. The opportunity for a vibrant exploration lies before you.
You are the creator of your educational experience. You are in charge. Paint the page.