In Praise of Unnecessary Knowledge

A few days ago, I started a new daily habit of writing a fun fact on the whiteboard on the door to my room. These facts aren’t things I learn in class. They aren’t “life hacks” or inspirational quotes. They are true facts about things that have happened in the past or about the way things are, and they are completely inconsequential, of no practical use to anyone. And that’s why they’re great!

Learning is not something that should always be a chore. Discovering more about the world around us should be fun and awe-inspiring! I want to do my part to kindle the joy of discovery in people around me, and in myself too. Fun facts, trivia, unnecessary knowledge are perfect for such inspiration. They don’t carry any responsibility with them. You don’t need to act upon them, you don’t even need to remember them! You just need to enjoy them and appreciate knowing something more about the fascinating world we live in.

“You can’t tell anyone what to value.”
The economics teacher at my high school, who I only knew through his role as my assistant basketball coach, said this to me and it has stuck with me ever since. Thinking about it in terms of majors, it means that we shouldn’t denounce someone for choosing to major in Econ and “selling their soul to Wall Street” so that they can make a lot of money. It also means that we shouldn’t disparage someone for “taking easy classes” and going into education where they’ll make significantly less money. Different people value different things because of: How they were raised
  • How they define success
  • Their personality
  • Their experiences
  • And other very personal, very variable things
The only thing we can hope is that everyone is OPEN to their values changing. What does this mean? It means being open to: DISCUSSION
  • THE SYNONYMS GO ON for what is 2+ people sitting around a table talking and listening
with people who have different values from their own (which is, hint, everyone…it’s just a matter of how different) This discussion will never happen if we put our heads down and move through college like it’s just the next wrung of a ladder, the means to an end, a diploma-pumping machine (insert another tired cliche here if you please). If you wanted to do that, you should have just taken college online because it would have been a lot cheaper. “Oh, but it’s not as prestigious and I’d get lonely,” you say. Well, maybe that loneliness and that hunger to be pushed beyond the material would make you appreciate and take advantage of the prestige and tight-knit community of a place like Williams. Maybe a taste of online education should be a pre-req for admittance. The point of a college having a campus is to give the bright, hopefully unjaded 18-22ish year-olds a place to talk about and debate what makes life worth living and how to go about living life that way. The thing is: we’re probably not going to get this straight from a class…or at least not from the limited number of classes we’re able to take. That’s why we need to talk and reflect with our peers. To hear about the classes we’re not in. To hear about the lives we’re not leading. And to check and see if what we think is valuable actually is. Doing so will allow us to value and get value out of this fine education.

Liberal Arts

Division III knows the world is made of numbers.

Division II knows the world is made of ideas.

Division I knows the world is made of stories.

And they are all correct. The great privilege of a liberal arts education is being able to learn what all of these different ways of looking at the world have to offer. We can explore around and between the regions of human experience and knowledge that are often sharply divided and forcibly separated.

“Depth and Breadth” is the slogan that’s often used. Depth is fantastically challenging and rewarding. Depth is when you travel to the frontiers of human knowledge, and join the noble quest to expand them further, to map new territory and bring back the treasures you discover. However, I’ve been even more gratified so far by what I’ve gotten from Breadth. For Breadth is (to carry on the metaphor) a weaving, winding, wandering journey through the very heartlands of humanity. With Breadth you strive not to the frontiers and fringes of knowledge, but towards the center, the hub around which the great mental landscape revolves. This turns out to also be a difficult journey, though for different reasons, and is one that is arguably even more valuable than that of Depth.

Anyway, I’m writing this post to remind myself that, despite how difficult or trivial our journeys through academia might sometimes seem, it’s absolutely worthwhile for the discoveries that will be made, and for the people that we will become in the process.

The Fluffy Foxes and the Yellow Ducks

Today as I was walking into Sawyer, I saw a young kid (probably 6 or 7) using one of the computers and managed to catch a glimpse of their screen. On it was a short paragraph with the title “The Fluffy Foxes and the Yellow Ducks,” and they were smiling while they read it. Remember when all we had to do was write about our furry friends just for the fun? Well neither do I — except I guess I kind of just did.

Why I Make My Bed Every Day

If you ever walk into my room, I can guarantee one thing: my bed will be made. That’s because every morning since I’ve been here, I’ve made my bed as perfectly as I can. You might say I’m a little obsessive over the details of such a trivial task, but I don’t do it just for the sake of having a nicely made bed at night. I take such great care each day for a few reasons.

First, it’s the first concrete task that I can accomplish during the day. And if I start with one thing done before I even step outside, I can add another task completed, and another, and another all throughout the day.

Second, I know it’s probably the one area of my life that I  have total and complete control over. There’s no one else who will tell me I’m doing it wrong or that I have to do it a certain way — I’m completely in control without relying on anyone else.

Third and finally, if all else fails and I am not able to control my day or finish as many tasks as I would’ve liked, at least I’ll have a nicely made bed to fall into when I get home.

Date My Friend

I found myself at the event-of-the-school-year known as “Date My Friend” serendipitously. My friend invited me to Pub Night to celebrate Galentine’s Day. I expected to have a great convo about the perks of being single while we stuffed our faces with garlic knots and studied the upperclassmen as they sipped their college-provided beer. I didn’t expect to get an hour’s worth of entertainment that doubled as a psych-lover’s wet dream.

Roughly 100 people (who knows) crammed into one of the Dodd dining rooms to watch PowerPoints given by friends about friends and why they’d make a great girlfriend/boyfriend. Some big ticket items included height, intelligence (“5 classes every semester…crazy?…crazy smart!”), sexiness, kindness (as indicated by relationship status with mom), success as a child, pet preference, and other miscellaneous interests (gaming, nature, 🍑s) that could mean instant bonding..or deal breaking.

I wonder how many people actually get hit up on one of their myriad contact mediums that are flashed before us at the end for a split second (“LinkedIn…for business inquiries only”). I also wonder how many of the spectators are on the market or if they’re happily cuffed folks there for a laugh and a comforting “whew, thank god I’m not having to puff my chest and put on my best good-humored face as my friend shows off sides/snaps of myself to strangers.” Huge props to those who agreed to be auctioned off in this way and especially to those who stood to the side of their friend like a pig at the 4-H spring show, vulnerable to the eyes of bidders, fearful of what the next chapter will hold, yet fat with love for the country kid who helped them grow to be the quirky boar they are today.

I hope everyone can find love (or lust if you’re like my brother who thinks it takes two years for two people to truly love each other [red Wiki coloring]) at least once during their time at Williams. I’d like to know the success rate of “Date My Friend,” looking at metrics like the number of social media requests, DM slides, irl dates, hookups, and marriages that come out of it. In this world of conflicting advice about love, it seems to take on a modification of the “shoot your shot” approach: it’s a friend holding them up on their shoulders while they t-shirt cannon enough shirts for every fan in the stadium, hoping someone will like the color and try it on.

What Would You Do If You Only Had 5?

What would you do if you only had 5 seconds left to live? Would you pray? Apologize? Cry?

Now what if you had 5 minutes? What would you do then? Personally, I think I would call my family and tell them I love them, but that’s just me.

What if we had 5 hours left? This is the one I struggled with most. Do I try and get home to see my family? Do I go on a hike and see the sunset one more time? There’s just enough time to do something, but still not enough.

What if we had 5 weeks? 5 months? Enough time to do a whole multitude of things before the end, but all with the voice in the back of my mind telling me that the clock is counting down.

The one constant in all of these, for me at least, is that I would want to spend whatever time I have left with others that I care about. Forget p-sets and readings and sports and petty disagreements — none of that would matter.

So, with that in mind, I have just one more question: if you only had 5 more decades to live, how would you spend it?


Today, the Opportunity rover on Mars was officially declared dead. This May, a massive dust storm hit Mars and blocked the sunlight from reaching Oppy, who ran on solar power. This rendered her unable to function, and after sending out over 1,000 unanswered messages, her team at NASA has officially declared today the end of her mission. We leave her alone in space today, her purpose served. Maybe someday, when a manned craft finally reaches Mars, we can return Oppy to Earth, to a human race who is thankful for her service and the knowledge she has provided to us. Until then, I feel strangely sad for the end of this inanimate object. She has gone cold, existing without instruction in the vast expanse of space. Goodnight Oppy — hopefully, we will someday be able to bring you home.

Impostor Syndrome

I often wonder how many students at Williams suffer from Impostor Syndrome, AKA feeling like you somehow aren’t smart enough or qualified enough to be here. I would venture to guess that a lot of Williams students feel, or have felt that way at some point during their time here. What about the college’s culture and environment creates and perpetuates these feelings? Maybe we all take ourselves too seriously? Maybe we have nothing to do with it, but rather it is born from increasing societal/ capitalistic pressures? I have no answers or nuanced perspectives, but I do wish all of us Ephs would be more open to talking about the reality and plight of impostor syndrome here on campus and beyond.

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