Reminiscing on my first year at Vassar

Yesterday I finished my last final and in doing so closed the chapter on my first year at Vassar. After such a long day I expected to want to just rest and forget the stress of the past year, but now that it’s completely over I can’t help but think back over all of the ups and downs that I went through this past year. When I got here, I thought that I had everything figured out. I knew that I wanted to go to Med-School and I thought I knew what I wanted to major. I had a grand plan that I had thought out for months. I’d even planned out things down to my extracurricular activities. Even after all that, I guess that life simply forces us to change so that we can grow.

My first semester was full of struggle and fighting to find what I wanted to do. From the very beginning of my time here, I fought to keep the plan I’d thought out. I knew that I wanted to swim, and refused to let it go even when I realized that it was too much. I struggled with the thought of letting go of one of the things that had helped define me for so long. I thought that if I let go of the team that I’d spent so much time, I’d end up feeling entirely alone. I wouldn’t only be giving up one of the activities that I thought helped to give me a reason to get up every morning, but I’d be losing the first family that I’d found at Vassar. Yet when I was forced to give something up, I grudgingly accepted that I had to give up swimming.

In the same manner I fought to hold on to  my gaming and the family that I had in that world. I have been an active gamer for years, and I didn’t think that I could just let go of another huge piece of what I thought defined my personality and character. The group of people I played World of Warcraft with had grown to be more than just a group of online friends to me. They were the family that helped me release stress and frustration when we killed internet dragons together. They were the friends that were always there, and who seemed to listen to all of my problems no matter what new issue arose in my life. Eventually I was forced to give up more of myself to continue with the life that I thought I wanted and needed, and my gaming habits and the friends it had gained me through the years were the next to go.

At this point I fell into a state of minor depression. I’d given up almost everything that I enjoyed and that I thought made up what was me. I couldn’t stand dealing with any issues because I began to feel entirely alone. The person I relied on most to help me began to falter here as well, and that only made things worse. She went from being my best friend who I went to with all my problems to someone who I hid things from because I didn’t want anymore problems or issues to arise. I was afraid of my life and afraid of losing any more. I didn’t want to let go of her because of how much she’d meant to me for so long, but I knew that it was only causing me more harm to keep holding on. As life would have it, I eventually found the strength to let go of her entirely.

Although I knew that letting go of all of these things was necessary, without all of them I felt like there was nothing left of me. Everything that I’d once done to give my life meaning was gone. The major aspects of my life that I enjoyed I’d had to give up, and I was left feeling stuck in a vortex of emotions where I couldn’t find a solid ground to stand on. I wanted to give up on everything and just proclaim to the world that it didn’t have to do anymore. I’d lost my motivation to keep going and had no one to push me towards it again. I was like that for months, yet some voice in the back of my mind endured and repeated the same thing everyday, ” Get back up and keep going.”

I knew that in that state I was the emptiest form of myself that I could be. I started from there and began with small things to create meaning in my life again. My first step was simply to be happy to anyone and everyone. I’d held anger and frustration in me for so long, and I wanted to let go of it all. I was tired of lashing out at people at taking out my frustrations in ways that hurt others. At first it was hard to keep a smile on my face. I couldn’t stand feeling like I was pretending to be something I wasn’t, but progressively that smile became real.

I continued building on myself by opening up to the friends who I’d shunned for months. I wanted to reignite all the lost relationships. My family, my friends back home, and my new friends at Vassar. I wanted to reintroduce myself to so many people and show them that I wanted to care. I spent so much time on the phone with my family; I caught up with my siblings and made it clear that I wanted them to tell me what was going on in their lives. I started talking to friends I hadn’t spoken to since Graduation, and many of them seemed so happy to hear from me. I loved having those feelings of knowing that I had so many friends back. The shadow of loneliness faded.

I began to try new things on campus with all the new people that I’d opened up to. I joined the Quidditch team and the Ballroom Club. I met two amazing groups of people who both pushed me to be the happy person I wanted to be. I found myself laughing again and doing things I would have never pictured myself doing before. I’d never truly tried dancing before, yet I went dancing multiple times a week all through my second semester. I loved getting on the dance floor and learning new moves that seemed so amazing. In the same manner I loved going out to the pitch for Quidditch practice and playing such an amazing sport. I loved that I had the ability to push myself there and work towards becoming a greater player, yet the people on the team added a factor of fun and silliness that I hadn’t felt from swimming in years.

Going through all of this breaking down and rebuilding showed me how little I really understood of myself or the life I wanted. I spent so much time focusing on a set path that I’d set, but I now think that I need to learn to change my path to grow around what life throws at me. The journey is infinitely more important than the end.

I can’t even put to words how much my first year at Vassar has meant to me. I went through so much struggle and pain to find happiness in myself, but I found it here. This school has given me the opportunity to rebuild myself and grow into a bigger person than I was. Despite having poor grades first semester and feeling that I could have done better academically second semester, I am glad with what I did learn my first year. The information I gained on who I am and what being happy means to me is something far more important. I’ve grown as a person in ways I would have never done if I hadn’t been willing to let go of the parts of my old life that held me to a stubborn mentality. This ending is only the beginning to so much more. I can’t wait to come back to this campus in the fall. Right now I am looking forward to the remainder of my college years more than I ever have.

For now, I’ll head home and wait though. Good bye, Vassar. I can’t wait to see what else you have to teach me.

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Thoughts on Bernstein

Recently in a philosophy course I am taking we discussed the philosopher Richard J. Bernstein’s “Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis.” While reading through his arguments for Hermeneutics and the interaction between people and art, I thought that his arguments brought on an odd topic.

Bernstein was attempting to build an argument in which he built up Hermeneutics, which was originally used to explain the interpretations of the Bible, to be applicable to all art in general. In building this argument he states that “aesthetic judgments are grounded in human subjectivity and yet are not merely relative.” With this he begins trying to explain that just as taste is communal, so too is the aesthetic pleasure found in art. Although many would argue that aesthetic pleasure in art is relative, Bernstein explains that the “museum” conception of art, in which we separate a work of art from anything extraneous to it, helps create a feeling that art is only to be judged on personal taste.

From here Bernstein introduces the idea of play that Godamer used to explain hermeneutics. Bernstein explains that an important aspect of play outlined by Godamer was the primacy of games. He states that “play fulfills its purpose only if the player loses himself in his play.” He goes on to mention the to-and-fro movement that belongs to play and says that play is a “happening”. In saying this, Bernstein is making the argument that for a game to truly be “play”, the player must take part in the to-and-from movements of play. In a sense, players give up a semblance of their individuality to truly become a part of the game. From this, the game gains its own essence and existence through the players.It “reaches presentation through the players” to become more than an activity; the subject of play is not the players, but the play itself.

In a further explanation of Hermeneutics, Bernstein explains the effect that prejudices have on our interpretation of art and how every interpretation is influenced by the prejudices that the interpreter carries. This is not directly applied to the idea of the game, but I will discuss this later and how I believe it relates to my thoughts.

I found this way of thinking to be very extraordinary. If we accept that in giving ourselves entirely to play we give presentation to a consciousness that is beyond that of the individuals playing, then games can be thought of metaphorically as their own existent entities. This consciousness that is created is also to be thought of as independent of the players that have created it with their play. Bernstein then explains that although a clear of objection to this train of thought would be to argue that without players there is no play, “analyzing play in terms of attitudes of the subjects… distorts the very phenomenon that we are trying to describe.” In explaining Godamer, Bernstein has stated that players giving themselves entirely to the primacy of play creates a phenomenon of greater consciousness. An entity that has its own rhythm and movement is created that becomes that steals the focus from the players.

A professional athlete is a professional game player, but they are not perfectly comparable to children playing games. The difference between a professional athlete and a child playing a game: a professional athelete constantly works to be a greater player of the sport and in a sense a greater manifestation of the consciousness of the game that he plays. In attempting to become greater, with or without a team, he is striving to reach perfection and improve on the horizons of the sport.

The knowledge and horizons that he begins with are not entirely his own though. Here I want to talk about the idea of prejudices as they relate to sports. Every child who will one day grow to be a professional athlete receives training to grow to the point that he can improve on the current horizons of the game. The training he receives instills in him a set amount of prejudices for the game that can be thought of as a style of play. While in presenting the style that has been passed on to him he puts his own unique spin on it, it is not entirely his. His play style has been shaped by all the training he has received and all the prejudices on the sport that led to his training. Because of these prejudices, it can be thought that each generation of athletes carries with them the prejudices and knowledge of every generation that came before them. Our knowledge of the sport is communal and continually growing.

Here is where I think that the thoughts on Hermeneutics applied to sports becomes truly fascinating. If you accept both the ideas of primal play and prejudices, it can be accepted that sports, as more complex games, can have their own essence or consciousness in a sense that can work through human manifestations to reach its own perfection. Professional athletes working to expand the horizons of their respective sports can be thought of metaphorically as tools through which this consciousness works to push its own horizons. The growth and evolution of sports changes its focus from that of the individual players that helped shape that growth to the play that came of it.

While I think that this can be said to be just a fancy way to talk of the growth of a game that requires human players, I think that it paves the path for much more. Bernstein said himself that there is a phenomenon present that cannot be dismissed by simply saying that we are required as part of its existence. There is some essence of every sport that grows in a communal manner from all the progress that we make as a society. There is a back and forth growth between the players and the game, but it requires the players to look past themselves for the growth to be present. If an athlete is too focused on himself, the growth cannot take place. An athlete has to learn to channel the essence of the sport and enter a state where they can perform without thinking of being tired or hurt, but simply working towards expanding the horizons of the sport.