The Life-Long Journey of Learning
Written by Victoria Barry
The other day I was helping preschoolers finger paint. As you can imagine, it was messy business. Each time one of the other teachers and I spooned paint onto a child’s paper, he or she immediately stuck both little hands into the paint and went to work. Preschoolers have so much enthusiasm. Far from being afraid of getting messy, they relish it. One little girl delightfully lifted her hands to show me how much paint she had smeared on her fingers and palms. As colors smeared together, I thought the pictures would turn into indistinguishable, brownish blobs. However, each picture looked unique, and some were actually quite beautiful.
I often find it difficult to accept the messiness of life, whether it be the physical messiness of paint-besmeared hands or the internal messiness of life’s many complicated situations. I used to think that growing up meant finding all the answers and being organized and competent enough to handle any situation. In the past four years, I have learned that this is not how life works. Hillsdale has provided me with a quality, challenging education that has helped me on my path to become an intelligent, virtuous human being. That journey, however, does not end on graduation day; it is a lifelong process.
If I have learned anything here at Hillsdale, it is that the more you learn, the more aware you are of your ignorance. Nowhere, not even a place as wonderful as Hillsdale, can prepare you for everything life throws at you. But it can teach you the proper response to these “messy” moments. And the people I have encountered at Hillsdale have taught me that the appropriate response is humility, patience, and prayer.
As my fellow students at Hillsdale, I know that you are zealous to learn and acquire wisdom. You are striving to improve your minds and souls. We spend our time exploring the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, living in a world of ideas and ideals. What happens when we step out of this intellectual realm and try to apply these ideals in the world? Toiling over a math lesson with a struggling fourth grader is much different than writing an essay about how to teach elementary mathematics.
There is something we, as college students, can learn from these preschool children. We need to be unafraid to plunge into the messiness of life. God can create beautiful things out of our muddled attempts. He has given us the gifts we need to paint a wonderful picture with our lives. The people we meet, the classes we take, and the experiences we have here at Hillsdale are helping us to develop and know how to use those gifts.
I’m not a risk-taker. I never have been. Hillsdale pushed me to challenge myself, sometimes beyond what was comfortable. I wrote a poem sequence for a 400-level English class and read one of those poems out loud at a campus poetry event. Starting my junior year, I took private voice lessons, which required me to sing by myself in front of trained voice professors and perform in voice recitals. I memorized two hundred lines of poetry by Gerard Manley Hopkins and recited it for my professor.
These were beautiful experiences, but they were challenging. I very much enjoy reading poetry and singing in choirs, but I have never enjoyed public speaking or presentations. Yet, if I had allowed my fear to hold me back, I would have missed out.
These challenges did not seem so glamorous when I was working through them, but looking back I am glad that I allowed myself to take the plunge. So don’t worry if you feel like your painting is just a blob of mixed-up color. Something beautiful is in the making.
Victoria Barry is a senior English major and classical education minor. She is an active member of Catholic Society, the president of the A.A. Milne Club, and a volunteer at Mary Randall preschool. In addition to reading and writing, Victoria enjoys baking, singing, and taking long outdoor walks. She plans on teaching elementary school after graduation this spring.