Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I hope that the reunion of college students with their families during the holidays proves to be a joyful event. For my part, I am so incredibly excited to be back home. It is nice to have a break after the past week of classes, which have been chock-full of assignments. I have written over 25 pages of essays in the past two weeks! It is mostly my fault for choosing such writing-intensive classes. Four out of the six classes I am taking this semester require a final paper of considerable length. Although the workload might not be ideal, completing these final papers is very satisfying to me. Holding ten pages of written work is somehow gratifying, maybe even more so than getting a good grade on an exam. Plus, I have learned invaluable information about how to conduct academic research in the weeks leading up to writing these papers. I learned how to use the library’s online databases, catalog, and inter-library loan system. I brushed up on my outlining and editing skills and received helpful critiques from other peers in my classes. I definitely feel more prepared now to write sound academic essays in the future.

As soon as I arrived home (in Virginia), the Thanksgiving extravaganza began. My mom has been cooking and baking and prepping all day. I helped by making a rather large batch of sorghum cookies, which I have been craving ever since they came out of the oven. When my dad arrive home from work, he started to make stuffing. He and my mom decided previously to have a stuffing competition, and I’m curious to taste each of their creations. Right now, the turkey is currently in the oven, and the table is set. We are waiting with excitement to celebrate this jovial holiday. I hope that all University students enjoy this much-needed break!

The Writing Center

One of my jobs on campus is working at the Writing Center. The Writing Center is a subset of the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence (CTLE) that is run by the University. At the Writing Center, students can meet with writing consultants to discuss their writing for any class and at any stage of the writing process — anywhere from brainstorming to outlining to final editing. There are a couple of faculty consultants, but the majority of consultants are students who are exceptionally competent in reading, writing, and thinking and want to help their peers understand and improve their writing.

A typical session is 45 minutes long and takes place either in the CTLE on the 5th floor of the Loyola Science Center or in a study room on the first floor of the library. When a student arrives, the first thing I like to do is read over the assignment with them. Surprisingly, many errors and low grades in essays are a result of the writer not completely understanding or answering the question posed by the professor. Then, the student and I will discuss an “attack plan” for writing the paper. If they have brought an outline, we will examine it and see if it adequately answers the question. If they have not outlined their essay yet, we will work together to create one. This is one of the most important steps that a good writer incorporates into his or her writing process. Many students have difficulty writing papers because they sit at their computer and just sort of expect words to flow out of them. Writing from an outline is a much easier and less stressful option. After creating an outline, the student and I will develop a tentative thesis that clearly and concisely answers the assigned question. Line editing for grammar, logic, and word choice is usually a later step that happens closer to the due date of the assignment.

The Writing Center is a great resource available to students at the University. Students writing in the humanities and in the sciences can improve their skills by scheduling an appointment.

A Weeping Icon

Two weekends ago, I participated in a Theology Department excursion to St. George’s Orthodox Church in Taylor, PA. The trip was led by one of the faculty members in the department who also happens to be a clergyman at the church. Although somehow a friend and I managed to get lost driving to the church, the trouble was well worth it. Upon entering the blue-roofed structure, I noticed with pleasure the scent of roses permeating the space. Before me, in front of the altar and tabernacle, was a screen of beautifully painted icons connected to each other by winding gold architectural supports. Saints and angels were depicted in typical Byzantine style, their slightly nonhuman appearances enhancing their spiritual nature.

As we sat in the pews, a handful of clergymen emerged from behind the icon screen, one of them bearing an icon of the Theotokos (Mother of God) in a wooden case. This is what we had come to St. George’s to see, but we couldn’t get a good view of it yet. First, the clergy sang a long but beautiful hymn to the Virgin Mary, and we joined in where we could. After this, the paster of the church said that he would finally show us the icon. He opened the wooden case, and I noticed with no small amount of shock that the interior was dripping wet. When he held the icon up over our outstretched hands, a liquid dripped in rivulets off of the icon!

This icon had been miraculously producing a fragrant oil, commonly called myrrh, for several years. It was incredible to feel the oil in my hands and smell its flowery scent. The pastor explained the history of the icon and many of the miraculous medical cures that have been associated with it. I’ve never faced a miracle before, and I have to admit that although I am a strong believer, I still cannot quite comprehend what I experienced that day. My mind is still vaguely searching for a non-supernatural explanation, but I know that what I saw and felt was something truly incredible. St. George’s Church in Taylor, PA venerates the icon every Wednesday night with a Moleben service. If you ever have the chance to attend, I highly encourage it.

The Disputationes

An hour ago, I was walking through campus in a Renaissance princess dress. Why?, you may ask. Well, it’s a long story — one that started more than a year ago. Upon acceptance to the University of Scranton, I was invited to the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts (SJLA) Honors Program, which is a philosophy-based honors program available to 50-60 academically high-achieving students. In the first year of the program, these students complete their Theology and Philosophy general education requirements together. I am currently in the second year of the program, and the classes I must take are Metaphysics, The American Literary Experience, and The Trivium. The Trivium (fondly known as “Triv”) gets a lot of press because by the end of the class students extemporaneously present a selection from Plato’s Phaedrus. In a toga. In the middle of campus. Where everyone can see them. But the reason I was in Renaissance dress was because of Metaphysics, not Triv. In Metaphysics, we have just finished learning about selected passages from Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. In order to test our ability to think logically and argue eloquently, we were submitted to the DisIdputationes. Each student had to complete an oral exam on material from the Summa that was not explained in class. This oral exam took the form of a disputation in front of three faculty judges and a slew of upperclassmen audience members. Extra points were given for dressing up in medieval garb.

The first thing I noticed when I entered the classroom for my “ordeal” was the dim lighting, meant to represent a medieval dungeon-like setting. The three faculty judges were dressed in their academic robes. Honestly, I felt like I was under scrutiny by the Spanish Inquisition. The first thing they asked me was “Do you think that God exists?” and from there I experienced the terrifying and exhilarating sensation of thinking on my feet to answer questions I could not have prepared for. The judges stayed in medieval character the entire time, one even noting that he did not know what the Law of Gravity was when I mentioned it. They only screamed “Heresy!” at me once, so I count that as a victory. Although the experience was definitely a unique and frightening one, it was also good to push myself and show what I had learned under pressure. The SJLA honors program is critical for this kind of intellectual development, and I am so glad I chose to enroll in the program.