23 July 2018

My Favorite Readings of Freshman Year

In college, we read a lot of amazing books, from science experiments to tragic plays to Sacred Scripture. In this post I'm going to share, in no particular order, some of my favorite readings from freshman year.

1. The book of Ezekiel
     For freshman theology, we read the entire Bible throughout the year. I enjoyed it as much as I expected to - maybe more - but I loved certain books of the Bible far more than I thought I would. Most of the books of the prophets were great, filled with solemn pronouncements and the various anecdotes so familiar to us. The book of Ezekiel was a whole different experience. Of course, I knew a few of the things that occurred in Ezekiel beforehand, but I had definitely never read it straight through before. It felt a lot more like reading Revelation than the other prophetic books, with all of Ezekiel's strange and disturbing visions. I didn't actually like reading it all that much, but our class discussions on Ezekiel were out of this world. 
     We focused especially on chapter 16, which is a rebuke of Israel for her faithlessness in view of all God has done for her. The imagery of a virgin bride turned harlot, which occurs in countless places throughout the Old Testament, here holds a unique bitterness, a tone reminiscent of a jilted lover. The author details how God brought up Israel to be a beautiful bride and adorned her with finery, but she turned away from Him and sold her beauties in sordid places. The comparison of Israel's sins with those of notorious cities such as Sodom and Gomorrah is harsh to the point of damning: "You have committed more abominations than they, and have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations that you have committed." (Ezekiel 16:51, NRSVCE) 
     One of the themes we brought up all year in theology was identity (I actually wrote my first semester final about it), so in Ezekiel 16 we talked about the repercussions Israel's sin has on her identity as the Beloved of God, as belonging to Him. If marriage is a choice to forever be identified with another person, a kind of renouncement of one's identity, then adultery and harlotry are forceful rejections of that identity. Sins of infidelity are a selfish severing of one's identity from that of one's spouse, thus losing a sense of self-identification. Israel has lost who she really is in turning away from God, and only returning to Him will restore her true "personhood". All sin, really, is this kind of rejection of our identity as belonging to God. When we sin, we turn away from who we are and seek to make for ourselves a new, autonomous identity. And since we are nothing without God, it never works. 
     Despite all this railing against Israel's harlotry, Ezekiel 16 ends with an affirmation of God's continuing fidelity and mercy. "I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord," it says, "in order that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord God." (Ezekiel 16:62-63, NRSVCE). Nothing that Israel can do, not even this most abominable of sins, can stop God from loving her as His own, and He is willing to re-establish His covenant with her again and again, as many times as she repents and turns back to Him. There is no vindictiveness in this jilted lover; only deep and unutterable mercy. 
     These are only a few of the things we discussed in our two fabulous classes on Ezekiel. Since I don't have my Bible with all its notes in front of me, I'm sure I've left out a good deal. But here is a taste of why I loved freshman theology so much!

2. Aristotle's Posterior Analytics
     Yes, I was one of the few who thoroughly enjoyed our voyage through formal logic in freshman philosophy. I really like reading Aristotle, actually. His writing is dense, but he explains things in the same way that I think about things, so it is easy going for me. After going through all the valid and invalid syllogisms in the Prior Analytics, here we finally arrived at the real thing: unqualified scientific knowledge, and how to obtain it through demonstration from first principles. I wrote 1500 words on demonstration for my philosophy paper (it happened to be my favorite paper I wrote all year), so I could go on and on, but I will spare you. Suffice to say that I loved going through Aristotle's exposition of demonstration and its necessity for scientific knowledge. All this experience of logic really makes me aware of people's arguments and what makes them valid or invalid. (Shoutout to Mr. Oleson, too, for giving us two non-syllabus classes on formal and informal fallacies!)

3. The Oresteia
     The first set of plays we read in seminar was Aeschylus' Oresteian trilogy, made up of Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, and Eumenides. Back in eighth grade, the Oresteia was my first introduction to Greek tragedy, and it has held something special for me since then. The plays are about the homecoming of Agamemnon from the Trojan War, how his wife Clytamnestra murdered him, and how his son Orestes returned from abroad to avenge his father's death by killing his mother. The main theme of this trilogy is a certain family curse which was called down upon Agamemnon's father, Atreides, after he committed an atrocious crime against his friend. As the actual substance of the curse is never explicitly stated, much of our discussion was taken up by looking at the clues and figuring out what the curse was.
     There is a disturbing cycle of guilt contained in the plot of the trilogy: before setting out to war, Agamemnon sacrificed his own daughter, Iphigeneia, to appease Artemis, who otherwise would have sent unfavorable winds and not let them sail safely to Troy. Clytamnestra, later, kills Agamemnon on the grounds that he killed her daughter, which seems justifiable, though whether that was her only motive is highly questionable. Then Orestes, who is heralded by the Chorus as a kind of "savior from the outside", returns home and avenges his father by killing his mother. The Furies turn on him in the final play, condemning him as a matricide. The horrific cycle of killing a family member to avenge the somewhat-justified dmurder of another family member thus goes on for far too long before the gods step in and the Furies are sated. This, so my seminar thought, was the curse called down upon Atreides after he forced his friend to unwittingly eat his own children. It is a haunting and truly tragic chain of events, in which no character is either totally wicked or totally justified in his actions. One of my seminar tutors, our president Dr. McLean, brought up at the end of our discussion how this tragic cycle of guilt and need for a "savior from outside" to make things right sounds a lot like the state of mankind in need of a Redeemer. It just goes to show that the greatest minds of the ancient times, even before God's revelation, had some inkling of what was to come--and why it was necessary.

4. Gregor Mendel's experiments on genetics
     Natural Science was definitely the hardest class for me in freshman year. Despite it being the most intense and lively class for my already wild and combative section, I didn't find the subject material very engaging. That is, until we read Mendel. I have always been interested in genetics, and reading Mendel's own account of his experiments on his thousands of pea plants was fascinating. His simple method of observing and opening every single pea pod to record its characteristics yielded some remarkable results: probability ratios of offspring genetics, ratios of hybrids to constants, and proportions of how offspring would actually look compared to its genetic makeup (because of the tendency of the dominant trait to always manifest when present). It was amazing how, when he had enough samples (tens of thousands), the numbers he counted by observation matched up almost perfectly with the numbers he predicted by his probability ratios. Mendel's discoveries are still relevant today, as the quiet little botanist monk is now known as the father of genetics.
     Reading Mendel's report, I was so enthusiastic about his successful experiments that I explained it all to several people, including my suite mate Emily, whose section had the misfortune of skipping the Mendel reading due to schedule constraints. I had never experienced such excitement about natural science, and it was really a treat to participate in our two class discussions on Mendel's work.

5. Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War
     Thucydides was one of the two things we read in seminar that effectively killed almost all freshman enthusiasm. Our three weeks spent on him involved 150-200 page readings of dry historical accounts every week, which turned even finishing the seminar readings into a rare occurrence, let alone liking them. To be honest, I'm not really sure why I did like Thucydides so much. The military aspect of his history (it was about a war, after all) did not make it appealing, and the speeches interspersed between the accounts of battles were interminable and almost worse than the battles. But his style of retelling the events of the war kept it interesting for me, in large part because it was reminiscent for me of learning ancient history in elementary school, when my mom read to us aloud from A Child's History of the World. I understood the military maneuvers and strategies much better than I expected to, and found myself well able to comment on the advantages and disadvantages of the various decisions the generals and rulers made. My favorite part of the history was when the Athenians decided, against Nicias'--and Pericles'-- express advice, to try to conquer Sicily, which failed horribly. (As a side note, I was hardcore on the side of Sparta the whole time.) Another fun aspect of Thucydides was that afterward we read Aristotle's Rhetoric, which gave us new knowledge with which to analyze the numerous speeches in Thucydides, including Pericles' famous funeral oration.

These, among other things, were some of my favorite readings of my freshman year of college. It was an amazing year, as I can't stress enough. What an opportunity God has given me!

01 July 2018

Radiant Joy

"Look to Him that you may be radiant with joy." (Psalms 34:5)
The liturgical year undergoes a cycle of varying emotions which match the season at hand. The hopeful waiting of Advent gives way to the exuberance of Christmas, which soon fades into the somber penitence of Lent. And after Lent comes the splendor of Easter, followed by the zeal of Pentecost and the mysteries of Ordinary Time, which end in triumph at Christ the King Sunday. But one thing that is never absent, during the whole year, is the "radiant joy" of him who knows the love of God. Even in the most desolate, penitential hours of Good Friday, the Christian has cause for joy, because "God so loved the world" (John 3:16). With such knowledge, what can the soul do except sing His praises unceasingly? And so, even in the most barren and devastated moments of our lives, we can maintain the hope and joy that come with knowing Him. And with that continued joy comes trust, and trust is followed by utter abandonment to His will. Because He seeks only to multiply that radiant joy for us; He works so that our "joy may be full" (John 15:11).

29 June 2018

Enjoying SD

Since spending all school year in California, it is a treat to be back home in South Dakota for the summer and enjoy the wide-open spaces, green fields, quiet streets, and amazing skyscapes. I missed the prairie while nestled in the mountains of southern CA!

taken by Mrs. Scott

taken by Susannah

taken by Mrs. Scott

I love the farm at the end of our neighborhood street

As we like to say, God's country!

09 June 2018

Living with a Dress Code

     Telling others about Thomas Aquinas College, many people are, shall we say, appalled when they hear of our strict class dress code. If you don't know, our dress code is as follows: for class, Mass, and meals, boys must wear collared shirts, dress pants, and dress shoes; girls must wear skirts which fall below the knee, sleeves which cover the shoulders, and necklines no lower than four fingers from the collarbone. Sounds excessive, right? "Sends the message that girls can't learn while wearing pants," you might be thinking. I won't pretend it doesn't feel burdensome and a little archaic at times. But the truth is, having everybody dressed so well does a lot to improve the atmosphere, dominated as it is by college students with no pretensions to put-together-ness. It makes us hold ourselves and each other to higher standards.

      (Disclaimer: the following are my own thoughts, and not the official reasons for TAC having the rules it does. I do not speak on the College's behalf.)
     I think the characteristic quality of people my age is laziness. At this time of life, we have so much potential to do whatever we want with our lives. The main reason many people don't reach this potential is simply not being willing to work for it. Everything worthwhile must be worked for: if we were just handed all the good things of this life as children, what pleasure would we derive from them? This rule holds true for, I would argue, every aspect of life. What you achieve is directly proportional to the amount of effort you put into it. But the fact is that most people my age don't have a good work ethic and have no desire to work for what they want. This attitude leads to bad grades, slovenliness, carelessness about morals, and a host of other evils.
     How, then, to fix this generational disorder? One way is to mandate effort. It sounds weird, but if you are required to put effort into something, it will get you used to doing so, even in non-compulsory situations. This is the beauty of the "fake it til you make it" philosophy. And that's one of the things that a strict dress code achieves. We have to put effort into a seemingly small aspect of life--the very clothes we wear--and as a consequence we find it less taxing to put effort into a more important thing, like our studies.
     But that is only one of the benefits of having a dress code. Another is mindset. Like it or not, no one can deny that the mental disposition of a person while wearing sweatpants and fuzzy socks is not the same as the mental disposition of the same person wearing a business suit. Occasions for which we dress well tend to have more import, and thus we are more engaged in whatever we are doing. One thing our dress code has taught me is to take things more seriously. Dressing in such a way as to be better engaged helps us acknowledge the gravity of what we do in acquiring an education. At TAC, we place a great emphasis on education as a serious pursuit of the Truth. This pursuit is essential to education--how can we pretend to any kind of knowledge or wisdom if we are not constantly seeking out what is good, true, and beautiful? And if dressing well aids us in this search, we have little excuse to set it aside. As my friend Emily put it, our dress code is "our way of paying respect to what we set out to find in every class--the truth."
     Another aspect of this discussion is paying attention to how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. As human beings, we depend on sense perception for our knowledge of the world around us, and sight is one of the principle senses we rely on. Because of this, we tend to make judgments about things and people based on appearance. This is not altogether good, but is also not necessarily a failing; someone's character is often manifested in their mannerisms, body language, and personal attire choices. It can often be an identifying feature--think of how easy it is to spot American tourists in foreign countries because of our distinctive habits of dress and mannerisms. It is a gift to have such an impactful way of expressing ourselves in our appearance, but it is one that ought to be used properly, as with all gifts. And it should be noted that this can sometimes work in the other direction, too: dressing better may positively affect my self-image.
     If my dress can have this much weight for my perceived person--and perhaps in who I really am, to a certain extent--then I ought to take my habits of dress seriously. If I want to be construed as a classy, put-together person, worthy of respect, then I should dress in a classy, put-together manner that is worthy of respect. Every human being has inherent dignity as a child of God, and we should dress in accordance with that dignity. Dressing well serves as a reminder, to ourselves and to others, of our value and our right to be respected.
     All this is common sense, and is reflected in TAC's custom of dressing with modesty and some degree of formality in classroom and social settings. Living with this custom has made me more aware of the dignity of myself and others, and of the importance of my education. Yes, it can be a pain at times, but it is well worth it.

03 June 2018


Well hello, world!
It's been a long time since I sat down and wrote a blog post!
     Freshman year has come and gone, and I am a little in shock looking back and seeing how fast it went. So much has happened in the past year, but it hardly feels like any time has passed! I have learned a lot about God and the world and other people and myself. I have met countless new and beautiful people, and thought of and talked about things I never thought of or talked about before. I got to experience the true Catholic life--living every day according to the liturgical calendar--and learned to value the Mass and the Sacraments in a new and better way. I read dozens of ancient books written by great and thoughtful men, and discussed them with great and thoughtful tutors and classmates. I had the new and different experience of meeting people who know only me, and not my whole family (which is weird for a big-family Catholic homeschooler). I was reminded again and again of the hugeness of the world and the littleness of my own experience of it. I learned to appreciate so many small things I took for granted before: a breathtaking view, a quiet library, good food, laughing with friends, saying good-night to my family, dancing to loud music late at night, kneeling in the still chapel while the sunlight slants in through the windows high above my head. I was unambiguous about my excitement for college before. But nothing could have prepared me for how absolutely wonderful it has been so far. It exceeded my expectations in every way.
     And now I am spending a quiet summer working and resting before the craziness of sophomore year. It is such a strange feeling to be "visiting" home and have school be the place I go back to at the end of break. It certainly makes me want to enjoy this summer as much as possible. It's like a three-month retreat for my brain. And heaven knows my brain needs it! Being home from college gives me an opportunity to look back on the year and realize how truly amazing of a year it was. And to prepare for next year, so I can learn even more and make even better habits and friends and memories. The past year has really motivated me to simplify my life--to own less stuff, make fewer plans, and focus only on what is important: God and my family and my friends.
     Such is my frame of mind going into this summer, and such hopefully will still be my frame of mind going into sophomore year. With the grace of God and the help of the saints, we journey on upward!

20 March 2018

Walk for Life San Francisco

Every year, TAC leads the Walk for Life in San Francisco, so in January we hopped on a bus and drove up for a crazy weekend in the crazy city!

It was a really cool experience being the ones to lead the walk and know what was going on. We walked past a lot of counter-protestors, some of whom were pretty aggressive, but we were all singing and laughing. Everyone involved in the walk was cheerful and helpful, and they were so grateful for the College coming up to give the witness of young people standing up for the truth. It was definitely a pilgrimage of sorts--sleeping on a gym floor with two hundred other people and no showers--but as usual, the pilgrimage was worth it. And it was really nice marching for life in beautiful sunny weather as opposed to a blizzard!

01 January 2018

2017 in Review

Happy New Year! It's always fun to take a look back on the previous year month by month.

In January I went on a five-day vocation retreat with the Nashville Dominicans, and even after the rest of the 2017, it's still one of the best things that happened this past year. I hope I can go back to visit them again soon.

One of the main things I did in February was work on my writing, both my big projects and my smaller ones. It was a blessing to have so much time to do it in senior year because I have pretty much zero writing time at college!

In March Patrick flew Tessie and me out to Chicago for a birthday trip. It was such a fun weekend filled with lots of walking, yummy food, and cool museums and sightseeing! I don't think I'd like to live in Chicago, but it's definitely a nice place to visit. 

April saw my last homeschool dinner dance! It was a fun tradition in high school, and it's only gotten more fun in college with five dance this past semester. 

I graduated! What with senior recital, open houses, and lots of other end-of-the-school-year things going on, May was a crazy time for sure. I'm still so happy to be done with high school. 

My summer job (research assistant at Dad's center, GSCE) may have been boring in itself, but doing it with one of my bestest friends every day made it so much fun! We made a lot of memories in that cold, dark computer room this past summer, including but not limited to helping each other stay awake, bonding over Spotify playlists, getting frustrated with Excel, and learning more than we ever expected to about Central Asian countries. 

Isabel and Matthew got married on July 8! It was awesome being a bridesmaid for their wedding, and Matt has been such a fun addition to the family!

On August 17th I became a real live TAC student--a dream I'd had for years! I expected a lot from college going in, but it's been so many times better than I ever dreamed! 

I joined our school's student-led chamber choir, Chrysostomos. Here's one of our songs that we sang for All-Night Adoration in November.

I got to be Tessie's Confirmation sponsor in October! It was a quick visit home, but I was so glad I was able to make it for such a special day. 

For Thanksgiving Break some of us went to my friend Maddie's house in Vista, CA. It was a super fun and relaxing weekend, and so nice to hang out in a house with a family again! I have made so many wonderful new friends in college and I'm so lucky to share freshman year with them. 

The harbor in Oceanside, CA.

I could mention the California fires here and all that drama, but I have something more important to remember as the highlight of December 2017: Gus and Jessie's wedding! I am so happy to have Jessie as a sister-in-law--what a great Christmas gift! As a side note, Christmas weddings are the bomb. 

So there are some of my highlights from the year 2017! Thanks everyone for making it a great year, and here's to a fantastic 2018!