July 2008 Issue
The Fence
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Tell Me, O Muse

About a dozen sophomores are lounging in Rangos Auditorium, picking at their catered dinners, and confessing their mixed feelings. They’re honored to participate in this first-of-its-kind seminar because they know that only the best of their class was invited. Yet, they can’t help feeling like guinea pigs. They’ve heard that this program will help them land coveted fellowships and scholarships, but they’re questioning how lectures on topics such as "best-self exercises" and "historicized self-portraits" and an alumni panel discussion about career paths will do it. But above all, they wonder why they’re spending the last three days of their semester break in a lecture hall.

In the middle of this gathering sits Carl Spindler, one of the invited students, who, with a mischievous grin, announces that this seminar needs a little spice. He reminds his friends of the first lecture of the day: Vice Provost of Education Indira Nair explained the name of the seminar—Odyssey—by giving an overview of Homer's epic poem and explaining how it relates to modern, personal journeys. Nair emphasized that a journey, with all of its unexpected twists and frustrating trials, can be more valuable than the destination.

"Well, if Odysseus wore a toga on his odyssey, you better believe that I’ll wear one on mine," Spindler says, persuading four of his friends to wear their best bed sheets to the next day's lectures.

As the students slip into their seats the next morning, Nair smiles approvingly of their attire.

Odyssey organizers' overall aim is to encourage the program’s 100 or so participants to apply for internships and study-abroad programs and to begin preparing for post-graduation fellowships and scholarships. But as the seminar unfolds, it turns out to be not a black-and-white how-to for life after Carnegie Mellon, but rather a pep rally made up of inspirational speeches and workshops.

Spindler and his classmates listen to alumni recount how their 5-, 10- and 15-year plans dissolved or evolved when they dared to take a class outside of their majors, study in an exotic country, or join an offbeat club. Spindler ponders what he hears; he still is adamant about becoming an attorney, something he’s planned since third grade, but he says he just may sign up for a class outside his history and public policy major.
--Allison Schlesinger

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