Welcome back, Honors Students

Hello there and welcome back from your summer wayfaring!  This is the Honors Blog, a place where I (and other writers in the Honors Program) greet you once or twice a week with a posted message.

An especially warm welcome to our incoming students: Michael, Matthew, Garrett, Rachel, Hannah, Kayla, Kerry, Alyssa, Caleb, Cynthia, Evan, Jamie, and Simona!

Let me start things off  for this year with a story from this summer.

This past May, for the first time since I was a little boy, I entered a book-reading contest in our local public library system.  At least that’s how I billed it to my kids.

“I’m going to win this thing,” I’d say grimly, “I’m a-gonna win.”

And they’d say, “It’s not a contest, Dad.  It’s a program.”

For every four books I read, I could in turn in a reading sheet, which entered my name yet another time in a raffle.  Each week, I’d go into the library and lean on the counter like a cowboy hardcase at a saloon.  Through narrowed eyes, I’d watch my opponents—most of them seventy-year-old women—turning into their reading sheets.  As I watched them turn in sheet after sheet, I wanted to say in my best imitation of John Wayne, “I wouldn’t do that if I was you.”

And then, late in the summer, the librarian called to tell me that I had won the Palos Heights Adult Book Reading Contest.  She did an excellent job disguising her excitement.  Indeed, her congratulatory language was very, very subtle: my name, she explained, had been drawn from a box.  At my next convenience, I should stop by and pick up my gift card.  She did not exactly acknowledge that I was the champion of the southside of Chicago or the Master of the Summer Literary Universe.  But some things can, especially for swift, canny readers like myself, be intuited.

I mention this story, because contemporary culture encourages us in every way possible to be winners.  And this urge to win, this impulse to be triumphant, sometimes confuses us about the nature of what we’re doing.   Not least in college.

Getting our heads straight about what we’re doing as scholars is a big part of what the Honors Program is all about.  College can seem like a zero-sum game.  Some people win; most don’t.  That’s just the way it is, right?  Right?  Well, maybe not.  But the intense academic formation and the intentional community formation that are central to this program direct our attention to something besides winning and losing.  They direct us to academic faithfulness.  At least that’s one way to talk about it: we’ll talk about it in other ways throughout the year.

My gift card, as it turned out, gave me five bucks.  So I can’t take you all out to Baker’s Square.  But what I can do is invite you to the first Honors Tea, next Wednesday, right after Labor’s Day.  We’ll talk there about Honors Program events that will give us space for good exchanges on what it looks like to do college well.  We’ll be doing some downtown theatre in October and Humanities Festing in November—and, of course, the early-fall Honors Program kickoff dinner in September at the Mattson Manor.  Details to come soon.

If after your first day of classes tomorrow, you’re feeling like relaxing and chatting, I invite you to stop by my office (GR 262) any time in the 4:00 hour for coffee/tea and cookies—and, better yet, a chance to meet your fellow Honors Program folks.


One comment on “Welcome back, Honors Students

  1. Leah says:

    I have truly missed your great humor and wonderful references. I’m quite looking forward to chatting and mostly laughing with you again.

    Fun fact: I really got into the Addison Public Library’s contest this summer. What we had to do was read 20 hours and every time we finished another 20 hours, we could enter our names to receive an assortment of 12 different themed gift baskets. (We had to choose which one). But! After the first 20 hours, I received a free plastic reusable tumbler (coffee cup?) and a flashlight type thing for my keychain. It was a blast. But that’s all I ended up with.

    Moral of my story: the reading was so worth it and almost the better prize.

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