Senior Retrospective: Josh Schwartz

I didn’t realize how much of my identity was tethered to studenthood until I was forced to face a future without school. Throughout my (nearly) twenty-two years, the thing that I spent the most time doing, on which I expended the most energy, and on which I lost the most sleep, was being a student. My intellectual, social, and extracurricular lives have almost exclusively been tied to my academic life, and as I look towards the future, I think less about where I’ll eventually end up and instead wonder what my day-to-day will look like without school. I loved being a student.

I think like most people at Vassar, I am here because I love to learn. But Vassar isn’t the only place that has fostered my learning, and so, as an ode to the end of my life as a student and in thanks to all of the institutions that have helped me along the way, I’d like to recount some of the oddities of my education and to try and capture some of the reasons that I’ll miss it so damn much.

My education has been unusual for a couple of reasons. From kindergarten through eighth grade, I attended a very small, very bizarre Jewish day school called Krieger Schechter Day School. I am not exaggerating when I say that a solid 40% of the curriculum involved making skits. Another 20% was writing and performing songs in front of class, and the last 40% was devoted to Judaics. Those skits and songs helped mold my sense of humor, but also Schechter was the first place where I learned that by and large, teachers are knowledgeable and caring but also always utterly absurd. Schechter taught me how ridiculous adults are and that silliness is not exclusive to childhood.

I attended the Park School of Baltimore for high school, an independent, non-sectarian, private school that followed John Dewey’s model of progressive education. At Park I learned the importance of pursuing my own academic interests and that they are always worth my time and energy. Park was the first place where I felt like teachers were passionate about the work that I was producing, not because they were required to give me a grade, but because they found it interesting and engaging. They continued to pursue conversations about my work outside of the classroom. At Park, I could text my teachers late at night and know they’d happily reply.

And then I came to Vassar. I’ve typed this retrospective in my TH, the Bayit, and the art library, three places that are symbolic of the three lives that I lived at Vassar: The THs, where my social life was centered, where I lived with my friends, read in the mornings, and hung out at night. The Bayit, where my extracurricular and religious lives have been, where I’ve prayed weekly and helped build a Jewish community for myself and others. And the art library, where I’ve lived my academic life, where I’ve spent hours studying paintings in classrooms and hours at work walking through the Loeb. I guess that what Vassar has given me can’t be pared down to a pithy sentiment because it’s much more complicated than that. These three lives were not disparate, but they were multifaceted, connected like an intricately woven web. They each taught me cumulative and overlapping lessons, lessons that I can’t fully wrap my head around just yet. Although I know that for the first time next year I will not be a student, I also know that I am not leaving Vassar behind; these lessons will carry me forward. So as we go into the great unknown, I hope that you will also carry something from Vassar with you, some lesson that you can take onward so that Vassar will always be with you no matter how far away from Vassar you may be.

 

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