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For high school seniors who are afraid

October 19, 2010 at 9:55 pm

A preface: I hope for anyone deciding to apply to Carleton, apply to college, or live in the world, this is beneficial. The entire college application process really freaked me out, and I hope this assures you that I'm still just as on edge (kidding). Quick notes: Pictures coming soon, I promise! And whoever you are (spambots excluded), please comment---I would love (as always) to start a conversation (Now that I’ve said that, I’m going to discuss myself for a while).

I came to college still looking for part of myself, and I love Carleton because I feel like there’s enough room for me to be myself, even if I’m not entirely sure who that is sometimes. I like Jefferson because he, too, didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up. I like Jefferson because he wanted to keep exploring. I like Jefferson because he believed in our best and most rational selves, because he wrote to Humboldt, corresponded with citizens personally and by hand, and wanted to build an octagonal house. He was also really meticulous--that's important.

Jefferson was obsessed with Paris and was the first American ambassador to France. I was doing my French homework in the libarary on a Thursday night, wandering between the printers upstairs and the back computer lab on third, when I saw it: Jefferson’s farm book. Let me explain: during his time at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson kept five (count them: five) daily diaries, detailing his garden, farm, business holdings, and the weather.

Discovering this book was some kind of magic. To begin with, the Jeffersonian section of the Carleton library is located on the second floor, and this book was on the third, in a section where the location of shelves constantly change. And I especially can’t help wondering whether there was a greater force at play here, since Carleton’s shelves (and those of many of the fine libraries throughout the world) are organized by Jefferson’s own system.

Jefferson’s patchwork version of the New Testament is poetic and profound and his personal poetry scrapbook interesting and illuminating. But this book, his farm book, has no thought. It has no input, no emotion; in fact, it basically has nothing. This book would never exist outside of obsecure horticultural circles if it belonged to anyone else. But aside from mentions of the Hemmings family, it might as well be. For pages, Jefferson records the weather and reports on his crops. And that’s it.

I would love to found the next great public university, write the next essential treatise on natural rights, build the next majestic American mansion. But there's no way I’ll ever record the daily weather. That’s just not who I am. I can’t even manage to go online to see if I need to wear a scarf.

Maybe one day I’ll get back on a horse and perhaps I’ll even start soaking my feet in cold water, just for kicks. But I’m cutting myself a little bit of slack now. I've realized I'm still not entirely sure who I am, and that's probably all right. There are still parts of Jefferson I really like, but I don’t want to organize my desk because I can’t organize my personal life. I too would really like an artifact museum in my foyer, but I don’t want my interest in other cultures to be coldly analytic. And the man had slaves! He owned people, and as a product of the post-cultural relativism as well as a conscious human being, I’m just going to come out and say that’s really wrong.

You don’t need to struggle with Jefferson’s legacy in order to come to Carleton. You don’t need to have a passion for French salon culture or writing or Adam Smith or Enlightenment thinking. But you do need to have a passion for something, and chances are good you already do. And that’s awesome. Because whether your interests lead you to change your mind, change the world, or both, you probably will discover something new. When you live on a rotating planet with shifting shelves, there’s really no telling what you might find out.

So. At this very moment, I really do wish I was more organized because I am doubting whether I did in fact return the Sandra Cisneros (convo two weeks ago—unbelievable) short stories collection to the Northfield library (they were all checked out at Carleton; although this was relatively inconvenient, I love this school). In about ten minutes, I’m planning on reading some ancient Greek philosophy. I still want to go to France and I still don’t think I’ll ever have just one career. And I love ice cream. But Taco Wednesday is teaching me to make lines, Calc is teaching me how those lines intersect, and Ethics Bowl (I promise one day I’ll explain this) and my professors and a bunch of crazy, wonderful people are helping me  decide where I come down on all of it. So I think I’ll be OK. And I'm pretty sure you will be, too.


  • October 20 2010 at 1:38 pm
    Jon Kittaka

    I'm not sure if the description fits this post...?  But that's okay, because it was really very interesting.  Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the slave-holding founding fathers are always interesting to consider.  Sometimes it seems like we've come a long way, and yet, just like them, we usually fight for freedom for some while holding prejudice against others.

    I admire how your posts are really meaty and interesting.  Getting caught up in the business of everything, I've come to rely on pretty images to carry my blog posts.  Nice job!

  • October 20 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Fantastic blog post Rachel. Very well-put together. I really like the fact that the ties to Carleton, Jefferson and your personal life co-exist very well on the page. None of them dominate, but they all compliment each other nicely and provide ingenious support for your point that it is okay to not know what you are doing with your life. Thank god we don't.

  • October 22 2010 at 6:51 am
    Jane Robinson Ward '85

    On my way to Monticello tomorrow.  Thanks for your post.

  • October 24 2010 at 9:11 pm

    Thank you all for commenting--I really appreciate it (and everyone else, it's not too late). I hope that your respective artwork (Jon, your piece in the last Carleton Comics Journal was awesome!), indecisiveness (Nora, I am very happy to have you in my life), and journeys (please let me know how your trip goes!) bring you happiness!

  • October 31 2010 at 2:41 am

    I am a high school Junior and I've been stalking the Carleton website for a few months now. This is one of the most interesting things I have read on this site or any other college site for that matter, perhaps because it calmed me down about not knowing exactly what I want to do when I grow up. Thank you, and I hope I'll be at Carleton one day!

  • November 18 2010 at 11:21 am

    Thank you so much, Amelia. And fret not--most of us are still trying to figure it out! Best luck with junior year and please keep reading!

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