Here & Now

By Norman Boucher / January / February 1999
November 19th, 2007
Sometimes it's easy to forget that Brown students are still adolescents. Over the last several months, we at the BAM have been working alongside three student interns - Kristin Schneider '99, Zach Block '99, and Naomi Katz '00 - who asked to learn about magazines.

It didn't take long to realize they had as much to teach as to learn. When we have given them magazine grunt work to do, they've accomplished it quickly, efficiently, and cheerfully. When we've asked them to report and write a short profile or an item for Under the Elms, they eagerly took on the assignments, reported them well, and met their deadlines - a combination all too rare in the world of magazine journalism. Even more remarkable is that they've done this while going about the business of being full-time students.

What's been most valuable to this middle-aged editor, though, have been the conversations we have had, conversations that have generally reminded me of how easy it is to simplify students into adolescents engaged in mastering their particular academic concentrations. They're so good at the academic stuff that it's easy to forget that Brown students, like all college students, have got the adolescent thing down pat and are now trying to become adults.

It's a particularly perilous time. "No one leaves adolescence without a taste of death," the poet Kenneth Rexroth once wrote, and I remember the resonance I felt in college when I first stumbled upon that sentence. College is a time when an infantile self is dying, but what will replace it is not yet clear. It's a time when self-doubt is never far from confidence, and despair is never far from hope. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago, when I asked Naomi what she thought of the excerpt we were considering from a new memoir by Susan Cheever '65 ("Note Found in a Bottle"). It is a dark chapter about her troubled years at the University, when she tumbled into an alcoholism it would take her decades to overcome. Opinions about the excerpt were divided around the office, but Naomi's response was concise and certain: "It's awesome," she said. "At a place like Brown, where you're pretty much left on your own, it's easy to get lost the way she describes. There are still kids like that here today. You should definitely put it in the magazine." I was struck that the writing could connect two students thirty-five years apart.

Any alumni magazine must recognize that, in addition to their academic work, students are busy with the hard labor of growing up. Sometimes the lessons they teach themselves when they're not in class are about darkness and self-destruction, but more often they are about ingenuity, truthfulness, and even love. The students creating the feckless characters of the soap opera In a Little Pond are learning a great deal about television production, but more importantly, they're learning how to see things for themselves, without the aid of parents and teachers. ("The Young and the Feckless"). Often what students learn outside class has a far more profound effect on their lives than what they are learning in class, as alumni who met their spouses on campus might attest. ("First Dates").

Even faculty members occasionally abandon their specialties to make discoveries that are as startling and unexpected to them as they are to us. For example, when Professor of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences Philip Lieberman and his wife, Marcia, began trekking in Nepal a decade ago, they had no idea of the intellectual and emotional journey they were about to undertake ("Luminous Angel"). Nor did Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Barry Lester anticipate how far into public policy his scientific work would take him ("The Crying Game").

On campus, learning is the one great constant, no matter how difficult the lessons can sometimes be.

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Related Issue
January / February 1999