So, I am graduating in three weeks, and I would like to share with you, the reading public, a few things that I have learned at Amherst that no one saw coming. I am not talking about life skills or common sense, but academic subjects that I happened upon, which I did not intend to happen upon, and which may, upon deeper analysis, lead me to a possible career (since as of yet I have no hope). There are three main areas in which I have accumulated some knawledge in kawledge as follows:
1. Intro ‘science’
2. 19th century Russian lit.
3. Religious art
I know what you’re thinking. “Bunnies!? Not agronomy or animal husbandry or agriculture? You’re a lagomorph for goodness’ sake!” No, I chose to take the path less traveled by my rabbit brethren, and delve into three completely unrelated fields of study.
You see, I came here with the intention of becoming a CIA operative (aka Russian spy). Over time I realized that spydom is not quite as glory-filled as one might hope (what with all the spying), so within my first semester at Amherst I changed my mind and decided to become a paleontologist, another very lucrative career option, after taking a science for non-majors class. I was taking Russian classes (“there must be dinosaurs in Russia that the Russians can’t get at under all that permafrost!” I thought) and geology and biology and environmental studies, and suddenly I was failing everything! Well really I was just getting a D in bio, but as an Amherst student yourself you may know what one fail is a universal fail, even if it isn’t in actuality a fail, but a near-not-pass. Needless to say, paleontology didn’t end up working for me––though I did watch the Jurassic Park trilogy every other weekend for four months and am now an expert on how not to be eaten by velociraptors. I didn’t end up getting a D in bio, but a B+ (the greatest turnaround in my academic history, I might add), so I allowed myself to take one more science class at Amherst––Psych. Thus, I achieved a level of general expertise in science, a skill that allows me to read the Tuesday insert to the NYTimes with fluency.
Meanwhile, across campus at Webster Hall, I was plodding along in Russian, and decided that it would be my fall-back major if I ended up doing poorly in any other broad subjects. I figured I would major in Russian and history, or Russian and poli-sci, and declared first semester of sophomore year to set my mind at ease. Because of “the way things work,” most contemporary Russian scholarship in those areas focuses on the 20th century (Stalin, Lenin, USSR)––so I figured that would be my area of interest outside of the language. Because I had to take some Russian lit classes to fulfill my major, I took some Russian lit classes. The first one was survey of Russian lit with Rabinowitz (a must-take class at Amherst held in the Red Room in Converse)––we read some nineteenth century novels. The second was a Russian culture class where we read two novels from the 20th century (Platonov’s Foundation Pit and Nadezhda Mandelstam’s Memoir) and about 8 from the 17th to 19th centuries. I read some more 19th century stuff (Tolstoy’s Hadji Murad) in a class on Eurasia, and yet again I encountered these tomes in the one required class for the major that no one told me I had to take––19th Century Russian Literature.
In all, I probably read about 25 novels written in the 19th century and 5 written in the 20th. And then for some unintelligent reason I chose to write my thesis about a Russian poet (I had read about four 8-line poems in Russian in my entire life) who wrote from the 1960s to the 1990s. I ended up taking two history classes and two poli-sci classes (during one of which I mostly read the NYTimes on my computer). It appeared that I did not have the wherewithal at that time in my life to even think about actually taking these classes to double-major. I ended up with all of this knowledge about 19th century novels that will not help my job prospects (and did not help my thesis), but which will provide me with something to discuss at cocktail parties I attend with people over the age of 70. And of course the intellectual fulfillment….I enjoyed them. Though, I don’t know if my parents sent me to college to enjoy books I could have checked out from the county library for free. I learned Russian, yes, but paired it with something rather unusable.
Finally, I also somehow collected a lot of knowledge about religious art, primarily Eastern Orthodox icons and Buddhist sculpture. I may be jumping the gun on the latter because I am currently enrolled in a class on Japanese Buddhist art, but art analysis is one of those things that you can learn to do relatively quickly if you have background in literature or film. I learned a lot about icons because every single field trip I went on abroad was to a church, or an abbey, or a monastery, or a fort, all of which possessed myriad Russian icons, which I looked at instead of gawking at the stooped babushkas lighting memorial candles who are the only other patrons of churches, abbeys, monasteries, and forts (maybe not forts).
This past year I have had some frantic phone calls with my parents in which the general feeling was *PANIC! I HAVE NO SKILLS! I WILL SOON BE HOMELESS AND JOBLESS!* Yet looking back, it seems that in addition to the “analytic” and “thinking” skills I have accumulated at Amherst, I have also attained a very specific skill-set based on general knowledge of three main topics, and specific but often misguided knowledge about my thesis topic. Currently, I am qualified to translate 3rd grade science textbooks from Russian to English, and to give tours of Russian churches to those same 3rd graders. Hopefully I can represent these areas of interest and skill in the resume I am about to write, but I have a feeling my potential employers will be more interested in my expired lifeguard certification and accumulated 100 hours of catering experience.
The end is near. Only time will tell whether my haphazard open-curriculum experiment will yield results.