A week before I graduated from Gutenberg College in 2010, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote an article, “History for Dollars,” in defense of the liberal arts. He stated that the humanities are a necessary part of a well-rounded education and are essential to understanding human behavior. While I definitely agreed with him at the time, the past two years have further confirmed the positive impact that my Great Books education has had on me. In particular, my experience at Gutenberg College enriched and clarified my understanding of what things in life are important to me. As a result, my liberal arts education has greatly impacted the decisions I have made about the life I want to live post-Gutenberg. First, I want to explain how Gutenberg helped me clarify the important things in life, and then I will show the impact this clarification has had for me since graduating.
During my time at college, Gutenberg’s emphasis on introspection helped me clarify what things are important to me in life. While reading how other people throughout history approached their lives, I was challenged to articulate what I believe and how I wanted to live my life. For example, Plato’s account of Socrates’ defense in the Apology was memorably helpful. I was struck by Socrates’ emphasis on the importance of nurturing the human soul. He believed that one takes care of his soul by becoming humble about what he does not know and then pursuing the truth. To Socrates, success in life was not a socio-economic status, as people believed back then and still believe today. Rather, he thought that there was more value in furthering one’s own growth and that a successful person was someone with a “healthy” soul. The Apology, along with the other Socratic accounts, challenged our culture’s understanding of success and helped me better form my idea of what a successful life should look like. This reading, and other books like it in the Great Books curriculum at Gutenberg, was pivotal for bringing up issues that helped me form a better idea of what was actually important to me in life.
This clarification has not only changed my outlook on what is important in life, but it has also impacted the direction of my life post-college. Firstly, it has played a key role in helping me make life-changing decisions. An example of this would be my husband’s and my decision to remain in Eugene after I graduated. While we have discussed moving to Portland for better job opportunities, we have decided to remain here because we still want to be a part of our post-Gutenberg community. We want our friends and mentors from school to continue playing a role in our development as human beings. While staying in Eugene does restrict our level of income and career opportunities, we value our personal growth and the closeness of the relationships that we have here more than having expendable income.
Beyond helping me make some of those tough, life-changing decisions, my Gutenberg education has also redirected some of my interests in life. Since graduating from college, I have become increasingly interested in the history of ideas and application of sciences in the area of nutrition. As a teenager, when my mom started cooking organic and whole foods, I had balked at the idea of anything new on my plate. This basically limited my diet to highly processed, industrial food. After going to Gutenberg and reevaluating what was important to me, I found myself wanting to know and implement good nutritional practices. In the last few years, I’ve gone from being the “Captain Crunch eating teenager” that I used to be, to the “Michael Pollan reading, gardening, backyard chicken farmer” that I am now. I may not be reading Kant, Hegel, or Hume every day, but my experience at Gutenberg helped me reevaluate my own eating habits after reading about the food beliefs of others, and I now look forward to continuing my studies in food and nutrition.
When I first decided to attend Gutenberg College, I expected that it would be, at the very least, an interesting program. It turned out that Gutenberg was not only interesting, but also life changing. I became more aware of what I wanted in life through the challenge of many other peoples’ opinions. In turn, this awareness has impacted the decisions I have made since graduating and has influenced my interests in positive ways. I am sure that two years from now I will continue to have a great respect for the importance of the liberal arts and have even more positive changes to show as a result of my time at Gutenberg.