Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Great Books Calling, Part 4

The fourth and final segment of a blog series on my journey to the Great Books and Wyoming Catholic College. Click the links to read the previous segments: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

My mind, heart, and soul were made up. I wanted to go to a Great Books college. It didn't matter that I had to explain to every other person what the Great Books were, or that some of them gave me strange looks when encountering the concept of a classical liberal arts education. I had a calling. I had been inspired--literally, a new zeal had been breathed into me, and I was not giving it up.

In the very first days of my new excitement I believed I was called to St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland (see Part 3). I loved their small community, their dynamic classroom approach, their intellectual rigor. In fact I was so overjoyed at finding a college that actually appealed to me, that I was reluctant to search farther. But, for the sake of thoroughness, I did. (Thank the Lord!) The next college website I visited was that of Wyoming Catholic College.

I had actually known about Wyoming Catholic, vaguely, for years. My mother worked in higher education, and we had friends of friends who were involved in its founding in 2005. But the only reason it had remained on my radar was because of its equestrian program. (I had known, even before I wanted the Great Books, that I wanted to ride during college.) Other than that, WCC seemed a mere blip on the map. They were less than ten years old. They had less than 150 students. They had no permanent campus. What kind of future could I possibly find there?

I very quickly found out.

That day in late spring of 2013, I pored over WCC's website. I instantly felt their Catholicity. I had not realized how much I had been missing that element in my college search; now it called out to my like a clarion trumpet. Here was a place a could not only keep my faith, but also nurture it. Next I swooned for their curriculum. From the giants like Plato and Shakespeare, to original scientific texts by Newton and Einstein, to the Bible and papal encyclicals--this was the real deal. I had been terrified of trapping myself in one discipline in college; no fear of that at WCC. Everyone took the same incredible classes; everyone learned to think like a poet, a philosopher, a theologian. And one more thing--a cowboy.

For it the faithful culture and solid curriculum of WCC drew me in, it was the outdoor program that hooked me for good. On the website, I marveled at photos--students horseback riding, scrambling up and down cliffs, hiking in pristine mountain wilderness. This was...different. Very different. This was like no other college I'd ever seen. What other school, first thing freshman year, took its students on a required three-week backpacking trip in the mountains? It was crazy. It was terrifying. It was kind of ingenious.

As a suburban Illinois girl, whose childhood had been filled with adventures in books, I was admittedly starved for wilderness. At Wyoming Catholic, I'd be immersed in it. I'd learn outdoor skills, teamwork, leadership, and wonder. I'd be surrounded by God's glory and the song of the mountains.

At that Wyoming Catholic became my number one college; number two became...actually, there wasn't a number two. But I couldn't wait two years. So I signed up for their summer program, P.E.A.K. (Powerful Experience of Adventure and Knowledge). Those two weeks this past July were some of the most beautiful and challenging of my life. I did study the Great Books. I did feel nurtured and strengthened in the deeply Catholic environment. I did see the song of the mountains, every morning, from the porch of my dorm. I did sleep among the sagebrush and the stars.

I also did a few crazy things, like this:

Australian rappelling--ie., walking headfirst down a cliff! That's me on the right, just starting to freak out...
(Photo by Mikaela Heal and Grace Pfeifer)

When I returned to my Chicago suburb, I found it...depressingly flat. But I know I'll be back. I've left a second home in Lander, WY. My Great Books calling led me to the mountains, where I saw beauty and felt terror and knew humility and joy as never before. In my mind, there is no question: I am a future student of Wyoming Catholic College.