Non-Required Readings



How to pick a year’s worth of electives.

Source: Flickr
Source: Flickr

During my senior year of high school, a teacher assuaged my anxieties about college: I would survive, he explained, because I was someone who was dedicated to learning for the sake of learning. I can remember nodding and thinking of how much I enjoyed school and my classes. Looking back on that moment as a college senior, I realize that in high school I had no true understanding of what it meant to learn for the sake of learning. In fact, it is a phrase I did not completely understand until just a few short weeks ago with the start of shopping period.

My decision not to write a senior year thesis left me with a unique conundrum in terms of picking my classes during this year’s shopping period. For the first time in my undergraduate — or perhaps my entire — student career, I had the rare opportunity to craft a schedule that contained only classes that I wanted to take rather than classes that fulfilled requirements.
As an indecisive freshman unable to pinpoint a concentration, I filled my schedule with Gen-Ed courses in the hopes that they would help me figure out my academic interests, so I finished those eight requirements early in my college career. Once I finally decided on my concentration — history — by sophomore fall, I was so in love with the department and all of its classes that I finished nine out of those ten required courses by the end of my junior spring. My frontloaded method of course selection left me where I am now — a senior with the entire course selection tool at my disposal to help me pick the four inspiring electives that I will take during my final fall semester (cue nostalgia).

My approach to this fall’s shopping period felt eerily similar to that of my freshman fall: I could take absolutely anything that I wanted to, and this freedom of choice was exhilarating. As a senior, I was more confident not only in my academic interests but also in my ability to find my classrooms without using a map. However, this fall’s shopping period ended up being more stressful than those over the past three years. As I was in a position in which there was absolutely nothing standing in the way of me crafting the perfect schedule, I felt intense pressure to find classes that I would be able to report as “the best class I’ve taken at Harvard” on the end of the year Q-score guides.

I ended up with a class shopping list of over twenty classes ranging from Sociology 162: “Medical Sociology” to African and African American Studies 11: “Introduction to African Studies” to Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 24: “First Nights: Five Performance Premieres.” The difficult part of this shopping list was that I could have been happy with any one of the twenty-plus courses I identified, but I had to narrow it down to four.

With that being said, on the list of things that stress me out as a senior (and the list is long: the job hunt, studying for the GRE, networking, etc.), the problem of “too many amazing class choices that it’s nearly impossible to pick just four” seems like a minor issue. Nevertheless, it is a high-priority on my Senior Year Bucket List to take classes that inspire me and that I probably won’t get to take at any other point in my life. Such criteria seem to embody the very definition of a liberal arts education.

I began to look at my newfound criteria for selecting classes as a welcome sign of finally and authentically learning to appreciate the classes I am taking not necessarily for the value they will have for a job down the line (i.e. next year), but for the value they bring to me as a person. Thus, even though it is likely that no one will ever ask me to recite the twenty lines of Shakespeare that I will be asked to memorize in my Gen-Ed, Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 56: “Shakespeare: The Later Plays,” I know that I will enjoy reading about Iago manipulating the happenings of Cyprus in Othello and analyzing the unraveling of Lady Macbeth in Macbeth.

In addition to reading one Shakespeare play every week, I will also be learning how to understand and draw molecules in Science of Living Systems 11: “Molecules of Life” — which is a far cry from my history background, in which I learn how to decipher sometimes illegible primary sources. I will be reading about the experience of African American children from slavery to the present in the new course African and African American Studies 186x: “Childhood in African America.” Finally, I decided to complete my final history department requirement with a cross-listed course, African American Studies 139y: “Hollywood and History: Understanding American Slavery Through Film” in which I will watch movies ranging from Gone With the Wind to Django Unchained through the historical lens of the cinema.

Even though the semester is still young, I am finding myself inspired by the lectures I am attending, because I feel that I am truly and finally learning for its own sake. I’ve been a student for almost eighteen years, and for the first time, I am truly uninhibited in my class selection. I am cherishing this moment. The jury is still out on whether or not I have indeed crafted the perfect schedule, but at least one thing is perfect about my schedule: none of the amazing classes I have selected meet on Fridays.

Kalyn Saulsberry ‘14 ([email protected]) is successfully staving off her senioritis by picking amazing electives.