12 months is a massive amount of time. There’s no way I could distill the lessons of the year into a single catchphrase or song. I feel like a much wiser man than I was last January.
12 months is not much time at all. If we met on the street one day, and you hadn’t seen me since 2004, you’d probably come away from the conversation thinking I hadn’t changed one bit.
Duke Semester 2
Classical Studies 105 – Ancient and Medieval Epics – B+. This class single-handedly destroyed my desire to study literature. We were reading some of the greatest works ever written, but every class, we found ourselves drowning in a swamp of meaningless minutaie. To supplement these works, we watched nihilistic Vietnam films of the 1970s. My professor was one of the most miserable people I’ve ever met. She only smiled when other people encountered misfortune, especially characters in stories. Every day, I entered class feeling happy and left it pondering the meaninglessness of existence. I was staring into the face of evil. As we all know, when you fall into a bottomless pit, you die of starvation. This refers to spiritual pits as well as physical ones.
Economics 55D – Intermediate Economics I – A-. I took this class on a lark after reading a macroeconomics article on National Review. Alas, this wasn’t a macro class. It was a much more boring version of AP Micro from High School. During this class, I realized that I don’t want to be an Econ major. The subject is too scientific. I prefer the general observations of Adam Smith, et al to the rigorous statistics and models of today. Can such rigorous methods help us in any way? I hope so. Econ is the #1 major at Duke.
Math 103 – Intermediate Calculus – A-. This was my most difficult class and my favorite. It influenced me to become a Math minor. It was the only class I took which was interesting and substantive from beginning to end. Here, I resolved to turn my mind into a problem-solving machine.
Unfortunately, the tests were always at the worst possible times. One of them was the day of our game against UNC. At Duke, you have to sleep in a tent every other night for about a month to get a good seat for this matchup, and so the night before the game, while over a thousand students were outside our tent getting hammered in 20-degree weather, I was inside with a flashlight studying differential equations. Another test was the morning after Duke Awakening #4, a Catholic weekend retreat during which I slept about 8 hours over 3 nights. I also had my fantasy baseball draft that evening! I selected a killer team, but I didn’t do so well on the test; I managed a B.
I had a solid B in this class before the final exam. To keep a respectable GPA, I had to hammer the test. So, for three days and three nights, I studied. I went through the whole book twice and the study guides twice each. I dreamed about math. During this long period, almost everything which I didn’t understand became clear. I had never felt better-prepared for a test. The test tried to break people, and it did a good job. A guy broke down crying in another testing room. I remember looking at my Chinese TA during the test and thinking, “Man, he’s Asian…I’ll bet HE knows how to do this…why can’t I be as good at Math as they are?” I persevered and hiked my grade up to respectability.
Philosophy 48 – Logic – A- – This class was a mixed bag. Half the time, it was fascinating. The other half, I was either working on my right-handed handwriting or finishing a crossword puzzle. I blame my TA for the inconsistency. We spent too much time on useless stuff which interested him and too little on difficult stuff which was challenging for all of us. Also, we had no idea what our grade was on any of the assignments until the end. Ah, well.
Duke Semester 3
Math 104 – Linear Algebra and Applications – A-. It was far more theoretical than Math 103, a challenge all its own. Once again, I bumped my grade from a low B to an A- on the basis of the final exam. I should come to understand these things sooner.
Music 65 – Theoretical and Practical Tonal Music I – A. This was my hardest class in terms of work. I learned all the keys, wrote numerous (numerous!) fragments of 4-part harmony using the laws of theory, learned how to sing on pitch, recognize intervals, recognize chords, write down songs the TA played on the piano…we had about 3 hours of homework per class. Thankfully, I know more about music now than I ever did before.
Philosophy 100 – History of Ancient Philosophy – A. This class was a delight. My professor was a happy man who knew everything and graded easily. Furthermore, this is one of my favorite subjects. What could be better? During this class, I realized how much my critical thinking had progressed. My freshman year, I was a crusader who wanted to convince everyone of my point of view through long, passionate, polemical papers. Now, I realize that Philosophy isn’t about that. It’s about using the mind to learn the truth. So, all assumptions should be challenged in a disinterested fashion. In the end, God doesn’t need for Plato or for Thomas Aquinas to be right about everything. He’s doing just fine on His own, thank you.
During this class, I also developed a strong dislike for a very loud classmate of mine who thought himself a sage. He may have thought his observations were earthshaking, but they only betrayed his misunderstanding of the subjects. The more he blustered, the more I resolved to stay quiet and to continually remind myself that I have much to learn.
Philosophy 101 – History of Modern Philosophy – B+. We studied Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, if you’re interested. I wasn’t. I never had a proper understanding of the significance of the subject matter, and the grading for the papers was overly technical. I should not put the blame on my professor, though. I simply never had the time to do the reading for this class. I only attended the lectures each day and read the parts which directly related to our papers.
Spanish 63 – Intermediate Spanish I – A-. My teacher had a dry sense of humor, but he was a good man. The most amusing parts of this class were the Spanish department’s blatant attempts at social engineering. In my opinion, reading and listening comprehension sections and compositions should be based upon Spanish culture. How else are we going to learn about it in the school setting? Instead of reading about historical facts and famous personalities, though, we read pieces on gay marriage, animal rights, respecting illegal immigrants, etc. which tilted left without fail.
This was my first college Spanish class and by far my most difficult semester of the subject. Hopefully, the work will pay off. Now, I would like to go abroad to Spain in the summer and fall. While I’m there, I’ll easily pick up a Spanish minor.
The funny thing about college is that each person has a unique work load, so I have no basis for comparison or competition with others. I was an A student, and now I’m an A- student. Do I work less, or has school gotten harder? I’m not sure. I could spend my whole life wondering how other people could do with my situation, but that wouldn’t get me anywhere. I have to simply put my head down and work.
Newman Catholic Student Center
Faith without works is dead, and a Catholic without community is rootless; he will surely wither. So, I’ve been quite involved with our campus ministry. Through it, I have met many wonderful people, done some good works, fallen in love with a few girls who were too old for me (alas!). I was the Lector Coordinator, so I made the schedule for readings at Mass and made sure everyone showed up for them. I was also a Sacristan, which is a person who sets up the Mass, holds the door for people, and runs procedures like the collection baskets. Our guitarists graduated last spring, so I learned guitar so we could play praise and worship songs. In November, when we had our annual Phone-a-thon to raise money for our activities, I was present on 7 of the 8 nights. I called hundreds of numbers and met dozens of strangers. It was emotionally draining but important work. I’d always felt ashamed to ask people for money, but now I see that when the cause is good, God will provide for it, and contributions will help the contributor.
I was on staff for Duke Awakening #4 in the spring, and I was one of the staff heads for Duke Awakening #5 in the fall. That last job was the most important one. Never have I felt so much pressure before a project or so much satisfaction after it. Usually, I try to stay in the background and let other people take care of the leadership, but during this retreat, I could not shirk the responsibility. I had to work very hard, and at some points, everything was hinging on me. (I would like to explain more, but Awakening has some secret surprises which I cannot divulge.) Over 3 nights, I slept 6 hours total. Around 3 AM on Saturday night, before the most climactic parts of the retreat, I changed into a completely different person. I didn’t think about anything I said or did; I simply did it. The Holy Spirit told me what to do. I wasn’t tired any more. I was simply filled with love. And everything worked out perfectly. The retreat which we thought would be a disaster was instead a huge success.
So, I learned how I deal with crisis: I put total dependence on God and then work, work, work. I am not retreating; I am drawing on secret reserves of strength. Thus, I never panic.
Also, during the preparation for DA5, I learned the true role of the leader. He is respected not because he is superior to the others but because he is willing to do the most difficult work. The leader is nothing but the first servant. The person who pursues titles and honors for their own sake will find himself wearing a crown of thorns.
In November, after Mitch Daniels’s election, Dad happened to add a partner to his practice who had many connections in state government. He was a very nice man with great stories. He assured my father that my sister and I could get internships at the governor’s office the next summer. This would be a great opportunity to meet people and to see the inner workings of our government. The way he described it, it sounded like a good old boys’ club. It sounded like fun.
For months and months, I heard that this job was coming to me, but we never got any paperwork, and we never interviewed with anyone. A couple weeks into my summer vacation, I had had enough of this good old boy and his empty promises. (It turned out that a power struggle among the new governor’s top supporters had stripped this partner of some of his influence.) My government had disappointed me, as usual. I was working a couple days a week at a warehouse, but I needed real hours. So, I went scouting for a real job.
Our pastor recommended me to a construction firm which was looking for summer temps. The interview lasted less than a minute. I had a job as an “unskilled carpenter.” I was to work 40 hours a week for $10 an hour. I got a hard hat, safety goggles, and work boots. I was blue-collar.
We worked from 7:00 AM-3:30 PM every day in temperatures which consistently broke 90 degrees. At my first job, we knocked down the brick facade at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, stapled Tyvek paper in its place, dug a 30-inch trench all the way around the building, laid a new concrete foundation, and then subcontracted Mexicans to lay fresh bricks on the paper. I shoveled bricks, dirt, mud, broken pieces of cement, anything which got in our way. I used tools like the jackhammer, the demo hammer (a handheld jackhammer), the diamond saw, and the broom. Lunch was half an hour long. We got all our water from a single container we lugged around.
I went home each day dirty and tired but proud of myself. When I was in elementary school, I was a weakling who could never win an arm-wrestling match, and my feeling of physical inferiority to stronger men had never quite gone away. I’d always feared that I was a pampered white boy who couldn’t make it in the real world. During my job, though, I had no time to be weak. I had to work hard and fast, or I’d get in trouble. So work I did. I proved to myself that I was strong and that I could handle any job. I could work in construction forever if I wanted, but it wasn’t my calling. I was going to college so I could do something better.
I had some unique partners. There was John, a 21-year old who’d dropped out of college to fund his cocaine addiction. He had just gotten out of prison after serving a term for armed robbery. My pastor had helped to spring him from jail and had gotten him this construction job. John got a new lease on life, but he’s probably blown it by now. He was already drinking and getting into trouble with his co-workers and bosses by the time I left.
Don was a 50-year old who looked 60. When he was young, he dropped out of college to race cars. Then, he sold safety equipment for race cars. He was one of the best salesmen his company ever had…perhaps he was too good. His salary got too high, and the economy turned south, so Don found himself working in construction with us. I don’t feel much pity for him, though. When the bosses weren’t around, he would mysteriously disappear from the job for a couple hours at a time.
Mauricio was a good student in a Mexican high school until he spent a summer working in the United States. He never came back. So, he doomed himself to working odd jobs to support his family for the rest of his life. Mauricio was a very good man and a knowledgeable one, my favorite on the team. He was round and had a full mustache, so he resembled Mario. Once, he was talking to one of the bricklayers in Spanish about how much faster our firm would work if we hired Mexicans instead of whites. I laughed about that one. He was right.
Rick was one of our crusty bosses. He was a good-natured man, very skilled with his hands. One day, while I was working furiously to control the flow of the concrete we were pouring around the school, I heard the cement truck driver compliment my work. “Yeah,” Rick agreed. “He ain’t no good at his studies, but he works hard.”
Bob was the supervisor at my second job, the Broad Ripple High School renovation. He had his own trailer in which he smoked and hung playing cards with naked women on them. His wife was pregnant, so each day, we sat inside the smoky trailer as Don told stories about what his daughter was like as a baby. The week I finished the job, Bob was gone. His wife was delivering the child.
Broad Ripple was a much easier job than Mt. Carmel. I got paid $20 an hour because of the “prevailing wage” law. (Under this law, any firm which is working on a government project has to pay its workers union wages. This eliminates competition.) We were the only non-union firm on the job, so the other companies were always teaming up and stealing our stuff. They were also lazy. Yes, we complained about the union priveleges a lot.
Nick, who studies Architecture at Ball State, was a great guy. Jake, another BSU student, loved to drink, party, go to strip joints, make racist jokes, and complain about whatever task he was doing. He was a good guy, though. Jeff told me all about how he was going to become a highly-paid crane operator in a few years, but behind his back, everyone told me they didn’t believe him. Jeff told me on numerous occasions the prevailing wage law stipulated we were entitled to take union breaks, too, so his loafing was justified. Sean was an Irish boy who decided he’d rather join the union than go to college. There was a tool named Tom with a rich father. Jeremy Schutz worked with us once in a while; he didn’t talk much. Steve, who now attends Purdue (or perhaps IU), was also with us. He had a strange way of speaking. He never sounded funny, and he never sounded serious; his words were just ambiguous.
I only worked in June and July, but I didn’t fare too badly. I made $3000 and gained a good measure of self-respect. So much for wimpy internships.
It seems like every time I run 3 consecutive days, something comes up to stop me on the 4th. I’ve never gotten into a rhythm. I once identified myself as a runner, but those days are fading from memory. For the next week, I’ll be a basketball player. Here comes the charity Marathon.
I didn’t read many books this year. Every time I started one during the school year, I remembered all the homework I had to do. My classes weren’t writing-intensive, either, so my style is unusually clumsy right now. It doesn’t feel right. I need to siphon time away from Sports Illustrated and into real books.
My best reading this year was the series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. Never have I seen an author handle so many moving parts so well. The world and characters are extremely realistic. The author is a moral pragmatist, but I can tolerate this moral hazard because the story is so good.
I’ve come to the realization that anime is still TV. Watching it will entertain me, but it won’t educate me. On the entertainment note, my family and I just watched Season 1 of “Lost.” It’s superb! “Batman Begins” was my favorite movie of the year because it was action-packed and also had a coherent moral center.
My favorite records this year were “A Hard Day’s Night” by The Beatles, “Joshua Tree” by U2, “Blonde on Blonde” by Bob Dylan, “Bang Bang” and “Silent Steeples” by Dispatch, “Making Movies” by Dire Straits, “Reckoning” by R.E.M., “Songs in the Key of Life” by Stevie Wonder, “London Calling” by The Clash, “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen, and some Verdi. All of them are close to my heart now. I’m especially impressed with Bob Dylan. At first, he sounded like a no-talent hack whose lyrics didn’t make any sense, but in time, I realized he truly is a genius.
I finally put posters in my wall this year. Now my decorations include the Crucifix, Martin Luther King, Jr., the flag-raising at Iwo Jima during World War II, John Paul II, “School of Athens” by Raphael, Reggie Miller, and Peyton Manning. When I get back, I’ll add a poster of the religious painting “Madonna of the Streets.”
The Republican Party did not impress me this year. It had complete control of the government but seemed afraid to use it. They’re as corrupt as all the rest. My confidence in politicians hits new lows each week. The mainstream media is not acquitting itself well, either. There’s a lot of government left to shrink. Civic communities must grow to fill the vaccuum which Uncle Sam leaves behind. There’s no reason to get stressed out about all this, though; I can only affect politics every couple years.
I’m becoming quite proud of classical Western civilization. I’d like to take care of this Iran problem. I’m a little skeptical about serious libertarians. They are so thirsty for a utopian society that they remind me of socialists. The UN did a terrible job of stopping the Sudanese genocide, and by the way, why hasn’t Slobodan Milosevic’s trial finished yet? It’s been running for five years!
Most importantly, Pope John Paul II, one of my role models, died this year. What a great man! He helped destroy the godless Soviet Union, and he defended the dignity of human life for his entire pontificate. Hopefully, he’s praying for us from Heaven now. I like the new Pope, Benedict XVI, as well. He is a good and intelligent man. So long as the Church stands, so does the West.
We’re going to go with the big-picture definition of love here. On the “love your neighbor” level, I learned to treat service workers and strangers with friendliness and respect this year. No matter how “busy” I am, I shouldn’t look past the people who are all around me. I’ve finally made a habit of calling my elders “Sir” and “Ma’am,” something my parents neglected to teach me.
I’ve learned that friendship is not about hanging out or having fun together. It’s really about loyalty, generosity, and sacrifice. It is a great joy to have a true friend and to know it. To be someone’s friend is a conscious commitment. I’m happy to say that I have true friends both at home and at Duke.
I didn’t date anyone this year. Sure, I went to lunch with a few girls, but nothing was official, and there were no 2nd dates. I just wasn’t feeling it, and I certainly didn’t want to force it. My life is great as is. Besides, I needed to put more distance between myself and the ghosts of the past. Now, I’m free. If this is the year when everything comes together, I’ll be ready.
Sean Dockery’s Shot
On December 4, Virginia Tech was beating Duke 75-74 with 1.8 seconds left. We were inbounding the ball underneath our own basket. Tech had just scored 12 consecutive points to seize the lead; our undefeated record and No. 1 ranking seemed lost. Then Josh McRoberts inbounded to Sean Dockery, who hit a miracle 40-foot shot (the 3-point line is 19 feet from the basket) to win the game.
It was like he’d made the shot for me. It rained hard the rest of the week, and I hardly noticed. I was as buoyant as a balloon. After receiving that shot of hope, I knew that everything would be all right.