It is an amazing time of year here at Phillips Exeter, not only because it is finally warm and sunny, but because of the end-of-year displays of student excellence.
I have been privileged, over the past week, to see excellence from many students in many forms. Evan Soltas, the most brilliant 18-year-old economist in America, predicted what the American economy would look like in fifty years. (If you are interested in the proof of this claim, check out his blog) Gene Chang’s draft 333 paper was twenty solid, readable pages on the American role in the Mossadegh coup; with a little work it could be a chapter in a book. The final choral concert, in which the Exeter chorus and chamber orchestra performed The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by Karl Jenkins, was awesome. Not a piece of music you want to listen to as you drive along, perhaps, but a piece you should hear once. In the same sacred space, Phillips Church, my mock trial student, Emery Real Bird, talked about his Indian heritage and how it interacts with his love of books and libraries.
Two events, in particular, have inspired in me a “summer resolution.” Sophie Haigney gave a short lecture on literature. Why should all Exeter students be required to read literature? Why should they all be required to write personal essays and narratives, thousands of words over the course of an Exeter career? Her answer (which she expressed far more eloquently than I) is that literature is the best way to step outside ourselves, to step into the life of another. Reading literature carefully, and writing literature (to the extent one can), is an essential element of life.
Last night Rivka Hyland gave a lecture on Anna Karenina. I had started re-reading the book, to prepare for her lecture, but even in the bits that I had re-read, she had read more deeply. In some respects her lecture resembled that of a college professor, for she was prepared, she had examples to support her points, she had history to tie in with the book. In other respects, however, it was a very Exeter lecture, more questions than answers. And when there was a question from the audience to which she did not know the answer, she admitted that, something few college professors would dare to do. Very inspiring.
So my summer resolution: spend more time reading literature. For a start, I have Anna Karenina on the Ipad and a long day of travel ahead of me.