What Does it Mean to be an Educated Human?
It is uncommon to pause during your education to seriously consider all you have learned. It is even more rare to consider what your learning means. The collective consciousness around education does not usually make space for deep reflection. Most of us are not taught to ask, “What have I really learned? How does that learning intersect with my passion? And how does my passion intersect with what the world needs?”
These questions are key to thinking critically about your learning. Moreover, these questions are not important solely at the end of one’s education, but are powerful from the very beginning. The Academic Statement refreshes Evergreen’s commitment to help students think deeply about why they are here, what they will do at Evergreen, and where they will go upon graduating. In fact, it is now a graduation requirement for students admitted fall 2013 and after: your final transcript must include an Academic Statement of up to 750 words (the length of this article) in which you summarize and reflect on your education. You begin it when you first enroll and revise it annually under the guidance of faculty; the statement introduces your transcript to outside readers.
I came to Evergreen as a first-year student in 2010. My first program asked, “What does it mean to be human?” My self-evaluations reflected on the essence of that question. What the evaluations alone could not do, though, was address a larger question: “How does understanding what it means to be human apply to my education as a whole?” The Academic Statement enables and shows this deep and rigorous reflection. By writing it, we can learn to understand our academic choices as connected—not in a checklist of pre-fabricated requirements, but in terms of their content, and how to approach each new investigation with the last one solidly in mind.
When I started at Evergreen, the Academic Statement was not college policy. I spent two years not entirely grasping how each program fit in to my education as a whole. I have discovered that the Academic Statement gives students much-needed guidance. Because we work on it each year, writing it becomes both a reflective exercise and an academic planning tool, leading to more intentional decisions about our academic paths. Its framework establishes a conceptual and, eventually, tangible common thread that runs throughout our learning.
This common thread takes time to discover. Most of us can see it only after completing significant academic work. For me, the thread emerged during my junior year when the Academic Statement was introduced. At a school without traditional majors, discovering this common thread focused and synthesized my education.
I spent most of last year studying the history of human rights. Considering why, for thousands of years, people have suffered at the hands of others awakened a strong interest in the roots of justice as a concept. My term paper was a philosophical and historical inquiry into Herman Melville’s writing, and I began to develop a theory about how literature can foster a realization and understanding of justice. As I reflected on this learning, I found connections between that initial question about what it means to be human and the new queries about justice.
I finally saw the common thread in my education: a desire to understand justice. I wanted to know why and how injustice occurs and what I can do, within the scope of my passions, to work towards lessening it. What is my role and purpose and duty, as an educated person with immense privilege? How can I implement my skills and passions to lessen oppression and suffering? I now see that the study of justice was implicit in my first two years of college, but until I wrote about my learning with purpose, I could not see that common thread.
As I wrote this essay, I was engaging in deep critical reflection about my education. Even now, at the beginning of my senior year, I see new dimensions of this common thread. This article is the product of the reflective pause I took to write it, a pause which seems to evoke the essence of what it truly means to be a student.
The Academic Statement is a powerful tool for us students. Each of us will use it to explore what it means to be an educated human. It allows for serious self-reflection about the responsibilities this privileged identity carries, and which of those responsibilities each of us will make our own.
By Sovay Hansen, contributing writer. Sovay Hansen is a senior studying abroad in Berlin, Germany.