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Veritas: A Student's Perspective

Natalia Quintana shares an insider's look at the Veritas Program.

Now that the fall semester is coming to a close, I think it's safe to say that the Veritas program has very much met the expectations I had coming into the Mount. Actually, it's exceeded them. In a span of just a few months I've read all kinds of literature, discussed tons of themes, met new people and even learned things about myself along the way.

Not to say that it hasn't been challenging. I've already lost count of all the essays and journals I've had to write for the Symposium this semester, and don't even get me started on all that reading. But it was all worth it in the end. So far, the Veritas program has prepared me to have in-depth conversations and understand things that will affect me in so many ways, even outside of the classroom. Most importantly, it's prepared me to become a responsible member of the global community.

A huge misconception that people seem to have about teenagers and young adults is that we're not capable of thinking philosophically. That we don't ever wonder about the universe, or that we never question the world or what makes it tick. Well, we do, and we do it a lot. Unfortunately, we're underestimated because society seems convinced that we're too preoccupied with parties and social trivialities to think deeply about anything. I'm glad that the Mount didn't subscribe to this belief. I'm glad that it saw the potential young adults like us have, and gave us an outlet to express ourselves and expand both spiritually and mentally. That's what the Veritas program is all about, really-- giving an opportunity for students like us to ask and answer questions about what our purposes are, what we need to know about the world, and what it truly means to be human.

Unless you're a proctologist, a first grader, or a weirdo, I'm pretty sure you don't talk about private bathroom business with others too often. You just... don't. As kids, we're introduced to the concept of TMI- "too much information"- and we hold onto it for the rest of our lives. It's something that's accepted as the cultural norm, and most people never really bother to wonder why human bodies and all their strange processes are so uncomfortable to talk about. In general, bodily issues are just plain... gross. I mean, bathroom business and hygenic habits aren't popular topics of conversation nowadays. In fact, I don't think they ever were. If you don't believe me, try bringing the subject up around others and see what happens. Here's a heads up before you do, though: their reactions probably won't be very pleasant.

In my last Veritas Symposium, my class was given a reading called "The Body and Bathing," which made us think about our perceptions of the human body-- both the young body and the old body. In class, my professor tried to get opinions and thoughts from us by doing the "awkward technique": Masterfully creating awkward silences until someone reached the point where they had to say something to break the sheer awkwardness of it all. I have to say that it's pretty effective, because soon enough students started voicing their opinions and the usual class discussion began to take place. There was mention of naked people, naked old people, having to bathe naked old people... Maybe it's because I'm kind of (okay, very) immature when it comes to that sort of thing, but it did make me a little squeamish. It also got me thinking, though. Why do people link discomfort, and sometimes even disgust, with certain body types more than others? Is it society's fault? The media's? The culture's?

I'm pretty sure that the "awkward technique" will be used a lot throughout this Veritas unit, which focuses on "the body, beauty, and incarnation." Not just because of the whole TMI thing, but because our bodies and our perceptions of them are personal and rarely ever talked about. I'm confident, though, that those awkward silences will be met with many interesting discussions about the physical body and spirituality. And maybe a few nervous giggles on my part. But only a few.

"May your dreams find a place
In the garden of grace
May they grow where you’ve planted the seed
May your faith be a flame
That won’t die in the rain
May you never want more than you need."

-Craig Bickhart

Now, I’m not a huge fan of country music, nor am I an expert in songwriting, but that sounds like lyrical gold to me.

That song verse was written by guitar-wielding, country singing poet Craig Bickhardt, who us Veritas students had the privilege of having as our speaker during last week’s Veritas forum. After a brief introduction, Bickhardt went straight to singing and later on, enlightening his audience with advice about inspiration, life and, most importantly, metaphors. After hearing him speak to the Veritas community, it really came as no surprise to me that he’s written music for the likes of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Martina McBride and Alison Krauss. From the beginning to the end of the forum, Bickhardt had his audience transfixed by his voice, his guitar playing, and his beautiful songwriting.

Like a lot of other students I know, I can sometimes have a hard time with expressing myself in my writing, especially when it comes to school essays. The idea of trying to describe thoughts and emotions (which, as we all know, can sometimes end up being indescribable) freaked me out. I have a feeling that one of the reasons Bickhardt was chosen as a speaker for the Veritas program was to give Veritas students a sense of freedom when it came to writing. His lyrics, saturated with depth and emotion, reminded us that we could be just as powerful in our writing by using tools like metaphors and inspiration from life.

After Bickhardt had left the stage and the forum was over, I found myself inspired and ready to pick up a pencil to finish that essay that I’ve been trying to avoid. Of course it’s easier said than done, but Bickhardt’s musical lecture taught me that I could find inspiration anywhere to help me along. When looking back on the forum, I’d have to say that the Veritas program has again succeeded in helping me see the world a little differently

It is several weeks into the Veritas program, and already, drama is starting to brew. Not the catty, high school drama that you’re probably thinking of now (you know, with the gossip and the rumors and the cafeteria confrontations …) No, I’m talking about a whole different kind of drama: The intellectual kind. The kind that teaches us students to wrestle with the ideas of others as well as our own in terms of spirituality and the human nature. The kind that causes us to take sides with one perspective and oppose another. The kind that could start an ideological sparring match between classmates, or maybe even a professor. I guess it is kind of like high school drama, in a way -- you know, minus the hair-pulling.

The reading to blame for the “drama” taking place in my Veritas Symposium is called “Drugstore Athlete,” written by Malcolm Gladwell. In his writing, Gladwell raises plenty of thought-provoking questions: Is an athlete’s use of steroids the equivalent of, say, a depressed person’s use of Ritalin? Should the same rules that apply to the athletic realm also be applied to the social realm? Does dependence on an artificial aid always count as “cheating,” even in medicine? The excerpt was a short, five-minute read, but it was chock full of subtexts and implications that would take hours to read if also written out.

So you can already imagine the kinds of discussions and opinions that were raised in the class discussion. Some took the side of Gladwell, others took the opposite stance, and a few were somewhere in the middle. What really made the debates interesting, though, was how most of us were willing to use our personal experiences as weapons to support our points. Even I was able to gather the courage to share my personal experiences with the whole class, and trust me when I say that I’m not the type to share my personal life with just anyone.

I know a debate was worth my while when it leaves me thinking even long after the discussion ends, and that’s exactly what happened after the “Drugstore Athlete” class discussion was over. Seeing from the perspectives of other people (as well as disagreeing with them) helped me shape my own opinions about things that aren’t limited to those discussed in class -- not to mention that it was also pretty fun.

For those upperclassmen who are wondering what the Veritas program is, it is, in a nutshell, some really deep stuff. The complex class lectures in our Veritas Liberal Arts Symposiums, the mandatory intellectual panels, and the book readings might sound tedious to some, but hey-- they made us watch Wall-E as a class assignment. It’s really not as boring as it sounds. In fact, as a Veritas student, I’ve had the opportunity to think specifically about the role technology plays in our society and the human condition as a whole. Like I said—deep stuff.

What I’ve noticed about the Veritas Symposium—which you could say is a fancier freshman seminar -- is that it doesn’t deal with concepts that are distant to us as young adults and students. In fact, it pretty much hits the spot when it comes to teaching us things that will definitely come in handy someday; things that range from résumé writing and persuasive techniques, to being able to see the reality of technology in our ever-changing society. Not to mention that during the Veritas Symposium, I actually have a voice as a student. I’m not just sitting in the back of the classroom, taking notes while a professor drones on about a certain subject I barely know anything about. The Veritas course allows me to engage in debates and conversations with my classmates and professor. It gives me an opportunity to write essays and papers that reflect my arguments and opinions, as opposed to just answering a simple question and elaborating on it.

As a freshman at the Mount, I admit that I’m a newbie to this whole college thing— and a pretty awkward one at that. (Let’s just say that I’ve walked into the wrong classroom way more than once in the past few weeks…) But the Veritas Symposium has actually helped me warm up to it all pretty quickly. I have an awesome professor, I’ve met interesting classmates, and I’ve learned about things that I’ll definitely put to use in the future. So far, the Veritas program has succeeded in teaching me how to look at the world from different angles and from a deeper perspective. Will it only get better from here? I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

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