While the above is a somewhat pithy quote snatched from the wonder that is the internet, I do remember reading in it my experience with Michel de Montaigne, and it demonstrates to me what brings us all together as human beings.
Two weekends ago, it was Montaigne that brought together nearly sixty potential students in the Shimer spirit of discussion and debate.
I have been at all of the Montaigne scholarship competitions; the first one two years ago was the one I competed in, and I have worked at them ever since. While not all of my memories are crystal-clear, the Montaigne was the main factor in my decision to come to Shimer.
For those of you who don't know, the Montaigne scholarship competition takes place every year, usually on President's Day Weekend, and offers two full-tuition and two half-tuition scholarships for grabs. The first competition attracted possibly 15-20 people. The second had close to 40, and the third two weeks ago had almost 60.
The essay I read by Montaigne was "On the Education of Children." I received it roughly a month or two before the competition, and so had ample time to read it... twice, I think. I tried taking notes on the essay like they recommended, but I had no idea how to approach the text, or what I was supposed to be thinking, so I imagined asking questions and wrote a few things. The day of the competition came--oh, there's the nervousness I should have felt months ago. Why didn't I read over it more? Too late for that. Those thoughts ran through my head as I exchanged a few words with people I'd never met before upon getting to Shimer, before heading off to the first part of the competition: the written part. The prompt was something along the lines of, "How would Montaigne's idea of education include books and reading? What part do they play in education?" I haven't the faintest clue what I actually wrote about that, but I walked out feeling it had not been my best--I'm horrible with timed writing. I had a little time to relax then, though, because we were off on a campus tour, and then to lunch. I remember I sat with a girl who wound up not coming here.
Then came the discussion part. We all sat down around a table with facilitator Harold Stone, who was, in my eyes, every inch of what a facilitator should be. He asked a single leading question, and from there on we took it. Gradually we warmed to the text and the discussion, and I could feel my excitement building. Harold only had to ask one more question during the course of the discussion--the rest of the time we held it. I don't recall exactly what we said or what conclusions we drew, but I remember suddenly feeling ecstatic: this was where I belonged! These people, having read the same thing I had, were struggling with the same problems, looking for answers, and just as eager to talk about them as I was. I could feel my excitement building off theirs, as for the first time my mind connected to other people's sitting around this table, a connection I'd never felt anything like before. It was a shared excitement, a shared passion to find out how the world works and why, and a determination to find meaning in the reading, or to argue its lack thereof. It was then that I knew I would have to come to Shimer. If I wanted that feeling back, I had to go.
And so here I am.
Working at the Montaigne is just as much fun as participating in it--perhaps even more so, because you have less to be nervous about, but you can understand a good deal of what others are going through. Each year I've worked at the Montaigne I've met fascinating new people, most of whom wind up coming to Shimer. I get to see quite a few of them share that same excitement that I found--and there's nothing better.
So while the Montaigne means a good many things to me--I didn't win the grand prize, but I got some compensation--my best memories are of finding Shimer and seeing others find Shimer through it. Shimer is a place where the world comes together for me, and we can each see our own stamps of the human condition. No matter how different we are, there's always that.