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Christian Brickhouse: 'Read things you disagree with just to sharpen your mind.'

April 10, 2017

Christian Brickhouse

Linguistics  Anthropology 

Buffalo, NY

Why did you choose Cornell?

I chose Cornell for a bunch of different reasons, but the most important is that, when I visited, it felt right to me. I could see myself enjoying the next four years of my life here, while getting an amazing education. I liked that educational breadth was just as important as depth and that I was encouraged to explore my interests.

What do you value about your liberal arts education?

Before I came to Cornell, my best friend's parents gave me a book: David Foster Wallace's "This is Water," which was the only convocation speech he ever gave, where he talked about the value of a liberal arts education. He started with a parable: two young fish are swimming along and an older fish passes and says "How's the water?" The young fish keeps going and one turns to the other and says "What is water?" This is water. Like Wallace, I value my liberal arts education not because it taught me how or what to think but rather because it made me aware of the world around me and the different ways of looking at it. The value is in being awoken to the realities of the world around us that are so ubiquitous and taken for granted that we are ignorant of the ways they permeate our entire lives.

If you were to offer advice to an incoming first-year student, what would you say?

Be uncomfortable. Go to protests even if you're tired or anxious. Read things you disagree with just to sharpen your mind. Take classes on topics you know nothing about and maybe even fail a couple. Write letters to the editor and speak truth to power. You have so many opportunities to be engaged and to learn about yourself and the culture you live in: take advantage of it because your four years here will likely be the last time you'll have the means or opportunity to do so. Treat these four years not only as an opportunity to learn about your field of interest but yourself and the people around you.

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