(Unexpected) Major Opportunity

by Cecelia Pletan

“I came here with the promise of never becoming specifically a philosophy major,” my housemate Colleen Prince, ’19, told me as I sipped coffee and watched her pack for a dance competition one afternoon this semester. “[Back then] I bet I probably couldn’t even define philosophy,” she joked.

When she stepped onto Hillsdale’s campus as a freshman in 2015, Prince planned to major in international business and foreign language studies. Assigned a philosophy class by the registrar to fulfill a core requirement during her first semester, she lasted one class period before she felt overwhelmed with the unfamiliar material and wanted out. After requesting a drop card from the registrar’s office, she immediately marched it to Dr. Nathan Schlueter’s office for a signature.

“I just told him, ‘I can’t handle this.’ And I tried to take physical wellness instead,” Prince explained. But Dr. Schlueter didn’t let her off the hook so easily.

“He basically just said that the most important thing for me was that I leave the class with a new sense of appreciation, and kind of a sense of illumination in my mind and spirit…and to just try my best from there.”

Prince decided to roll with it. “I walked out of his office thirty minutes later, my drop cards not signed, and I just had a new determination to do well in this class,” she said. After that, she spent hours every day reading for class and booked office appointments with Dr. Schlueter every chance she could. Her hard work studying paid off in a deep love for the discipline, and two months later, she was a philosophy major.

“It just couldn’t be about the grade, and it just had to be about the level of wisdom; otherwise I would have just floundered. And in doing so, focusing on that, I actually learned how to become more excellent at it.”

Learning Plato and MacIntyre wasn’t the only hard part of her college education though. “I had to completely let go of my conception of what college was before I came here, which was to graduate high school, apply to a good college to get a good degree to get a good job…and get a lot of money. And it was just like, a whole theory of education for use. When you’re a philosophy major, you really have to let that go.”

Prince recently finished taking both the written and oral comprehensive exams for the philosophy department and credits the major as well as her professors, especially Schlueter, for helping her to thrive in Hillsdale’s classrooms–and beyond.

Prince has been awarded the Fulbright scholarship for the 2019-2020 school year as a Teacher’s Assistant in Ukraine and will begin her work in the fall. But this work doesn’t involve philosophy. Her grant, which Prince explained is her proposal for the independent study, integration, and research that she will be doing in Ukraine, has a twofold purpose: both “training as a Ukrainian folk dancer and researching and communicating with the Anna Mazurenko Project–a holistic children’s health clinic that my Ukrainian dance director is interested in working with–to start up a movement therapy branch and perhaps even expand to soldiers with PTSD from the Euromaidan.”

Prince has been involved in Hillsdale College’s Tower Dancers program since freshman year. Ukrainian folk dance and ballet have been part of her life since she started dancing seriously at age eleven. She describes dance and movement as fundamental to the human being.

“I couldn’t imagine a future without [dance]. I would know somewhere deep inside me that I would be unhappy…. Dance is the entire reason I chose Ukraine in the first place and was able to write a cohesive and persuasive application.”

While her specific university placement has yet to be announced, Prince said that in her position as a teacher’s assistant at a Ukrainian university, as part of the Fulbright program, she will also teach a class once a week as well as lead cultural and conversational clubs and activities. She credits her study of philosophy for keeping her attuned to the opportunities around her.

“My philosophy major didn’t get me specifically my position [with Fulbright]. But guess what? I wouldn’t ever have applied to the things I applied to, or done the things I’m most passionate about, or kept up a determination for my education without my philosophy major…. Philosophy prepared me to be an open, interested, and curious person to ideas and worlds all around me. That’s exactly what a Fulbright [scholar] is expected to do. Philosophy could prepare you for literally anything, I’m convinced.”

Cecelia Pletan, ‘19, is a senior from Texas studying literature. She looks up to writers like TS Eliot, William Faulkner, and Taylor Swift. When she’s not pretending to do important homework in AJ’s, you can find her watching way too many TED talks and biking along Lake Baw Beese.

Published in May 2019