10 Stages of Drake Finals Week

It’s my final finals! And what an exciting time it is. Thank goodness I’ve learned so much over my years at Drake and have now managed my time so wisely that I’m just sailing along. Hahaha; just kidding. I’m a mess. In what has become a truly time-honored tradition, I am currently reaping the seeds of my expert level procrastination, cramming to write papers and finish projects at the very last minute possible. Is this the smart way to do things? Nope. But it’s who I am, and at this point it’s far too late to change the crazy thought patterns that enter my head. It’s now my pleasure to provide an insight into my finals week thoughts. As deadlines loom, I make decisions. Some productive, some questionable. Okay, they’re mostly all questionable, but here they are:

8 hours till deadline: Okay, unlike last semester, I’m gonna get this paper done early. But not right now, obviously. I have tons of time.

7 hours till deadline: I just need the perfect playlist, then some stuff is gonna get done.

6 hours till deadline: Okay, that playlist took longer than I intended. But I’m gonna get started and write the header on my paper. Ooh, actually, my apartment is kind of dirty. I can’t work in these conditions. Better take some time to clean.

5 hours till deadline: Whoops. Okay, definitely going to write now. For real. I mean, right after I get a snack.

4 hours till deadline: Okay, I now have two pages written. That’s an accomplishment. An accomplishment that deserves a quick break.

3 hours till deadline: Oh, boy. The good news is that I work better under pressure anyway. And the pressure is building. I’ll calm down by checking my phone for a minute, then, it’s time to get serious.

2 hours till deadline: Ohhhhh no. I really have to work

1 hours till deadline: AHHHHH!!!!

1 minute till deadline: TURN IT IN; IT”S FINE. IT’S DONE!!!

2 minutes after deadline: That was terrible. Did I even spell check that paper? You know what, it doesn’t matter. That was so traumatic, I better settle down and take a well-deserved break.

Drake Women’s and Gender Studies

The state capitals, how to write an essay, the lyrics to Remix to Ignition. I’ve learned a lot of important things in my educational career so far. From the tangible and concrete to the purely theoretical, my time at Drake has allowed me to expand my intellectual horizons. And while I’ve had the opportunity to experience a wide range of academic subjects, I can confidently say none has been more important that my foray into Women’s and Gender Studies.

If you’re picturing barefoot women parading around in the grass, reading Gloria Steinem, you’re completely off base…okay, so maybe not completely. But the point is that Women’s and Gender Studies at Drake is complex and multi-faceted. It’s more than reading the theory of Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, and Judith Butler. It’s Beyoncé, it’s Portlandia, it’s Britney Spears. Issues of feminism and the performance of gender are in the very fabric of our culture, economy, and political system.

It wasn’t until I came to Drake that I was really able to grasp that truth. Until I took classes about Women’s European History, Feminist Theory in Popular Culture, and the Salem Witch Trials that challenged the way I thought about gender and made me question my own thoughts and beliefs. I really can’t overstate how important this has been in my college career. I mean, after all, what is higher education for if not to provoke growth, spur discussion, and develop new perspectives?

Now, Drake is not Oberlin. The University strives to prepare students with a mix of liberal arts skills, but also focuses heavily on professional preparation. And while that’s great and important, I think it can sometimes take too much precedence. You’ll have the rest of your life to work in Excel spreadsheets, memorize chemical compounds, or refine your journalism skills. But you may only have one opportunity to have a big, fascinating discussion about what gender means, where our ideas originate from, and the reality of equality.

Sorry if I’m a liberal arts student cliché right now, but I firmly believe that Drake would be an even better place to learn if everyone had the opportunity to experience at least one Women’s and Gender Studies class. I mean, it’s not my job to tell people what to learn, but I guess I’m telling everybody what to learn right now. As a senior, I have that authority, right? So do it. Take a Drake Intro Gender Studies class. And watch it transform the rest of your life.

The Beauty of Ignorance

It’s rather unquestioned at this point that college is the source of knowledge. It’s the place one goes to discover themselves through newfound information, and the beacon of intellectual achievement. The college experience is the rare landscape where academic exploration is not only accepted, it’s encouraged. To put it simply: “Girls (and boys) go to college to get more knowledge.”

But contrary to this perception, my college experience at Drake hasn’t been so much the discovery of knowledge, but more so the discovery of ignorance. My ignorance. Because I was a precocious (okay, annoying) kid, I believed if I just completed a checklist of reading materials, I would know it all. I would be educated. It’s taken me maybe my whole educational career to realize that I could read every book in the Western cannon and still have so, so much more to read. No matter how much I learn, there will only be a boatload more that I don’t know. And though I initially saw this ignorance as a hurdle to overcome, as a problem to be fixed, I’ve come to revel in it. The fact is, ignorance can be a beautiful thing.

I’m not saying we should all strive for stupidity or give up learning new things. Actually, quite the opposite. Becoming aware of how much I don’t know is the best thing that could’ve happened to me academically. In my last semester of college, I now know that a checklist of courses isn’t going to complete my knowledge. Thus, I’m free to learn and explore as much as I possibly can. I’m going to take advantage of every opportunity presented to me, and perhaps especially ones that emphasize my ignorance and challenge my abilities. So I’m taking classes this semester about African colonialism, Renaissance women, and European nationalism. In short, things I know nothing about. But, I’m learning, I’m working hard. And at the end of the semester, I’ll know a little more than I did before. I’m embracing the ignorance, even as I strive to eradicate it.

J-term @ Drake

It’s only fitting that in the grips of Iowa’s frigid winter, I should delve into the Cold War.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been immersed in my j-term class, The Cold War Through Film. We’ve looked at various films that describe and characterize Cold War history and culture to gain a better understanding of the period, and its politics and ideology. And yes, what I’m saying is that we got to watch movies in class every day.

But honestly, the class, like all j-term courses at Drake, was a cool opportunity for me to step outside of my academic comfort zone and do something different, something interesting and challenging. I decided to take the class primarily because of my sketchy knowledge of Cold War history. I wanted to learn, and learn I did. We started with end of World War II and moved through history all the way to the late 80s, completing readings and lectures that described historical events and watching complementary films that portrayed history in unique ways. Some of the films I’d seen before (Platoon, Apocalypse Now, War Games,) and others I hadn’t (The Manchurian Candidate, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Red Dawn.) But each one was enlightening and helped us all think critically about the reality of the Cold War. And spoiler alert: The United States is not always the good guy.

The fact is, I’m leaving the class with a new appreciation of Cold War history and the ways in which economics, culture, and international relations are linked throughout American history. I’m a more critical consumer of the U.S. politics and political rhetoric. And in general, I’ve come to think carefully about the messages I’m given through culture and history. Isn’t that kind of what college is all about?

To learn more about j-term at Drake, check out the full list of on-campus and travel seminars here.

The Last Registration

Today I did something pretty crazy: I registered for my final semester of classes at Drake University. Okay, so maybe crazy is a relative term. But honestly, it’s hard to believe that I’m nearing the end of my college career and selecting the courses that will cement my Drake education. And yet, here I am. In the grand tradition of senior year nostalgia, it’s only natural that my last registration should cause me to reflect on all my previous registration periods. The stress, the worry, the late night snacks, and the early morning cramming, praying to get first pick of classes have all come flooding back. And in this reflection, two things have become clear:

I’m still the same student I always was.

Planning for the long-term has never been my strong suit, so picking out classes months in advance has always been a little counter-intuitive. Nonetheless, I acquiesce to the demands of higher education bureaucracy by planning and plotting, projecting and outlining my courses months, and even years, ahead of time. But that doesn’t mean it will necessarily go smoothly, and in fact, it never has. Once a procrastinator, always a procrastinator. And that I certainly am. I will inevitably wait until the last moments to pick out courses, thereby leaving my future in the hands of a sleep-deprived version of myself high on sugar and pure panic. And yet, it always turns out okay. I’m not saying I won’t eventually face the impetus of change, forcing me to responsibly plan out my life decisions, but that day is not today. Mac Miller once said “I Am Who I Am”, just as Popeye told us “I Yam What I Yam.” I stand by both of these gentleman as the same person I was when I began my Drake journey four years ago.

And yet, I’m so much different.

I started the process of registering for classes at Drake with my checklists in hand. I knew what I needed to take to get my two degrees and thought of little else than following my prescribed course listings. Now in my senior year, that outlook is almost unfathomable. I’m not saying that the courses dictated by my majors aren’t essential, helpful, and enlightening, because they are. But what I’ve come to realize is that the best learning experiences I’ve had at Drake have come from me pushing boundaries and stepping outside my academic comfort zone. So these days, the checklist is less of a rulebook and more of a guide. This semester, I’ve chosen courses that will challenge me and force me grow, courses I probably never would have picked for myself four years ago. I’ll be tackling subjects such as colonialism in Africa, women in the Renaissance, European Nationalism, and magazine production, not necessarily because I have to take them, but because I want to. Because I’m genuinely excited for my last chance to soak up all the Drake knowledge I can. And yeah, that might be the definition of a nerd, but I think it’s also the definition of personal, professional, and academic growth. So, there.

In Defense of University Liberal Arts

The joke is a familiar one: University liberal arts provide students the opportunity to grow uselessly knowledgeable about esoteric (usually left-leaning) subjects all while pouring thousands of dollars the drain. Okay, I didn’t say it was a particularly funny joke. But as someone who entered into college a devout English major at Drake, you better believe I’ve heard all the criticism before. Things like ”Why are you paying to read books? Wouldn’t a business degree be more helpful? So are you a socialist now? Who even cares about these old dead guys?” Although that last question has the hint of a valid point, overall, I’ve dismissed these challenges because I believed firmly in the value of my liberal arts education. And as a senior, I now stand vindicated in my beliefs. I mean, I haven’t gotten a job yet, so maybe I should hold off on the parade, but I do believe my humanities education has served me pretty well so far.

The thing is that as a Drake English major, I don’t learn facts or readings or poems or even novels. I learn new ways to think about the world around me. I’ve had my notions challenged, and have grown as a person because of it. I know the term “critical thinking” is a buzzword or sorts that gets thrown around a lot these days, but my Drake humanities classes really have helped me to critically consume information and express my thoughts about it. Although I don’t want to disparage the benefits of professionally-targeted degrees (I am also a journalism major after all), I know that because I chose to study liberal arts, I can now look at things from different points of view instead of just one. I’ve experienced philosophy, gender theory, history, politics, pop culture, science, classic literature, sociology, and a whole lot more in my Drake classes.

Because I’ve had these educational opportunities, I feel like I’m more engaged in the world. I’m a better citizen, a better person, and I’m even infinitely more prepared to enter the real world after college. It may sound counterintuitive, but my humanities classes are the reason I can problem solve, empathize, communicate with others, and approach issues from new perspectives. I’m not saying that I’ll get a job because I’ve studied the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, but I am saying the skills I used to read, understand, and discuss Heidegger should serve me well in whatever my future endeavors are.

So my advice? Study the liberal arts in some way, shape, or form. I was lucky because at Drake it’s easy to pick up a double major. I’ve gotten both some great practical experience from being a journalism student and all the other benefits of my English degree. But whatever the situation, just take liberal arts classes you’re interested in, even if, and especially if, they’re something new and challenging. I promise, it’ll serve you well in the long run. And as to those people who criticize your foray into the humanities? Well in the words of another brilliant philosopher, Miss Taylor Swift, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate.”

Last First Day of School

When you think about it, today’s kind of a big milestone. It’s my last ever first day of school. Sure, I’ll have next semester, but this is the final time I’ll get that August back-to-school experience with the summer weather, the new notebooks, and the promise of a whole new year in front of me. In honor of the occasion, I even did a little math, and turns out this is my 17th first day of school (I think). Anyway, feel free to alert the media. It’s kind of a big deal.

You would think that after being in school for so long the novelty would eventually wear off. But honestly, it really has not. Today I find myself just as nervous and excited as I was prior to my first year at Drake or even my first year at high school. I’m a little unsettled, a tad jittery, and ready to get to class 30 minutes ahead of time. I mean, I won’t. I’m gonna play it cool and just get there 20 minutes early.

But I’m not the only one who’s excited today. Campus is absolutely buzzing with Drake students, both new and old, who are genuinely happy to be back on campus. As classes kick off today, we have the opportunity to meet new people, learn new things, and share new experiences. Thus, though we’ve all been at school for years, Drake still manages to make the first day new again. I think it’s a pretty unique experience to be able to say that even the seniors feel invigorated and ready to go come the end of August. But I think that phenomenon is due to the element of the unexpected inherent in the college experience and especially the Drake experience. There’s always surprise classes you end up loving or an activity you joined on a whim. There’s people you never thought you’d become friends with and unexpected moments waiting around every corner. Not in a scary way, but in a fun way. The reason I and so many others are excited and nervous today is because we can’t predict what’s coming this year at Drake.  But I can’t wait to find out.

Reading James Joyce

“The demand that I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole Life to reading my works.” –James Joyce

This summer, I seriously begin that journey of devotion. Okay, not really; settle down. Of course, Joyce was joking in the above quote. Well, joking in a truly Joyceian way that lets you know he was completely serious. But the point is that I am reading a lot of Joyce this summer. And actually, it’s completely voluntary. (TWIST!)

To anyone who’s ever read James Joyce, he’s a surprising choice for a summer beach read. His work is heavy, dense, and sometimes just downright incomprehensible (Finnegan’s Wake, anybody?). Nonetheless, I find myself perched by the pool this summer, cool drink in hand, and Dubliners by my side. Why, you ask? Because strangely enough, out of everything in the world, I chose to study James Joyce.

"Nothing says summertime reading like a little Levinas."-Entertainment Weekly

“Nothing says summertime reading like a little Levinas.”-Entertainment Weekly

This foray into depressing Irish Lit (is there even non-depressing Irish lit?) is for my Senior Honors Thesis Project coming up this fall. Honors students are invited to spend a semester studying the interdisciplinary subject of their choice and then present their thesis at the end of the semester to students and faculty. I’ve chosen to explore James Joyce and notions of Irishness, and honestly, I couldn’t be more excited.

For those that are still confused as to why I equate James Joyce with positive feelings, let me back up a little. You see, I decided to become an English major because of James Joyce. After reading some of his work in high school, I was immediately entranced. He was complicated, unique, and most of all, puzzling. I can’t say that I always enjoyed reading Joyce, but I can say that he challenged the way I thought and forced me to grow as a student of literature merely to keep up with him.

And once I experienced this feeling of being challenged into growth, I knew it was what I sought in my college education. I wanted to go to college to read James Joyce. The only problem is, in my three years at Drake, I never came across a Joyce class. I’ve read things I never knew about and been challenged in so many other ways, but I still haven’t gotten the chance to study the one man who drove me to this point. So, with this Honors Thesis process, I have the power to change all that. I’ll be forming my own class, doing my own readings, and doing my best to challenge myself as much as Joyce challenges me. And who knows? Maybe this is just the start of a lifetime of devotion.

Drake First Year Seminar

It’s the classic college horror story: the terrible roommate. You know, the one you can’t possibly get along with or understand. The one you could never have anything in common with. From Felicity (what up, Keri Russell?!) to The Roommate (a slightly more topical reference), I’ve heard my share of awful roommate stories, both fictional and factual. And really, entering into my time at Drake, getting an awful roommate was probably my biggest fear.

The good news is that I had had nothing to worry about. From the moment my first year roommate snooped through my movie collection and discovered we had the same taste, we were incredibly close and amazing friends. To be honest, this is the case more often than not at Drake. Sure, there are stories of roommates who just don’t connect, but I’d wager that our roommate success rate is a lot higher than most schools for one simple reason: The Drake First Year Seminar.

The gist is that every first year student takes a class based on an area of interest with a collection of other first years. These are the same students you live with in your residence hall and adjust to the college experience with. Thus, you have an automatic bond with your fellow FYS students, and have something inherently in common with the people you live with. This concept is one of the more unique aspects of the Drake experiences, and maybe the one I’m most grateful for.

While I can now look back on my FYS days with calm fondness, entering into my first year I was crazy nervous because so much was riding on my FYS decision. The class I picked would determine the kind of people I lived with, my first friends at Drake. I agonized over which class to take and what other people would take it with me. There were so many cool classes, so many possibilities, that I got overwhelmed. I loved the idea of a LOST course, but what if everyone in there was of ambiguous morals John Locke-style? I’ve been interested in punk music since I was a kid, but what if my classmates in the punk FYS were scary nihilists who’d never watch the Oscars with me because it’s all pointless? Anyway, in the end, I ended up with an amazing collection of people in my coming of age film study class. We bonded over our mutual love of all things pop culture and they continue to be some of my best friends to this day.

But you know what? I don’t think the FYS class decision was as make-or-break as I thought it was. No matter which class I chose, I would’ve had a good experience because we were all taking part in the shared Drake experience together. I made friends from the Chinese Economics FYS and others from the running FYS, and I’m sure I would’ve done fine in either of their classes too. Okay, well maybe not the running one. The point is that the first year experience at Drake is designed to be fun and supportive. So there’s really nothing to worry about, and a whole lot to look forward to.

Check out this year’s list of FYS courses, including my two personal class picks: Jane Austen and Game of Thrones.

Best Books to Read in College

As an English major, I’ve read a lot of books in my time at Drake. Good thing, too. It would certainly reflect poorly on the University if I had not. But some of the best things I’ve read actually haven’t been related to my major at all. When I glance at my bookshelf, what stands out are the books I never would have picked out myself, the ones I never knew I wanted to read. In fact, my favorite college books are the perfect representation of what a liberal arts education is supposed to be about. They span disciplines, subject matter, and time, and have challenged the way I think. Each individual will undoubtedly have their own collection of influential books, but here’s my personal list of the best books I’ve read in college:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Mix some Pakistani politics with a cool literary structure, and you get a really fun, fascinating read. I read Hamid’s work in a class about Middle Eastern politics and literature as we tackled the origins of religious extremism. I know it may not sound like a good time, but this novel and this class gave me a new, more enlightened perspective on US foreign policy. Also, Kate Hudson, starred in the movie adaptation, but don’t that that bias you; it actually is a good book.

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

Ok, so I’m not going to lie to you. Little Dorrit is no beach read. In fact, it’s easy to understand the misery of Victorian London while trudging through an 800+ page novel. But reading Dorrit in my Charles Dickens class taught me the value of completing a literary task and how to become engaged in a truly epic, complex tale. Plus, I developed an outstanding cockney accent, guv’nah.

Being and Time by Martin Heidegger

When I began my Phenomenology and Existentialism class, I couldn’t even spell Heidegger, much less tell you about his philosophical musings. And while my spelling is still not great, my existential understanding has definitely improved. There’s no doubt that old Martin makes for a tough read and a bit of a downer. But his thoughts on the how the context of our lives is artificially constructed have been some of the most influential in my academic career.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Confession time: I love Jane Austen. In fact, I have since I was a kid. And while I reveled in the wit and satire of most of her works, the dark undertones of Mansfield Park always troubled me. While taking a j-term class on Austen and landscape last year, I got to fully explore the novel’s use of land, British Empire, and slavery. And what I learned is that all literature, even lovely Jane Austen, is full of complications and contradictions. That’s what makes it fun.

The Elements of Style by E.B. White and William Strunk Jr.

For a short book, The Elements of Style certainly packs a punch. It details the principles all good writers should live by and common mistakes to avoid. I actually read it as part of a journalism class, but I think about it anytime I’m writing. As someone who tends to be a little wordy, White and Strunk serve as a reminder to me that often the best writing is the most concise. In their spirit, I’ll leave it at that.