Senior Retrospective: Lydia Wood

My best piece of advice is to make connections. And I don’t really mean like business networking connections—those are great too, but I still don’t really know how to make those. I mean connections across your academics, your extracurriculars and your personal life.

I ended up a religion major because I started writing every single thing my freshman year about religion: my history papers for my freshman writing seminar, my comparative politics papers, even my Spanish class. Growing up vaguely Protestant but without church attendance, I got interested in religion in high school because I wanted to know what I was missing. But once I got to college I started to see the potential for religion to be a connecting idea. Not in like a theological or practical social way, but in an academic way. I started looking at religion as a lens to study anything I wanted, a “good to think with” as Levi-Strauss would say. I entered the Religion Department thinking about studying Islam in America and somehow ended up writing half a thesis about Mormonism and museums.

I was always really intimidated by people who had a plan—biochem then med school, psych then social work, econ then finance.

I didn’t know what I wanted until 2nd semester junior year. I took a class in the Anthropology Department, From Natural History to EcoTourism with Professor Anne Pike-Tay and visiting artist Mark Dion. We studied the history of museums and display, all the while helping Mark put together an installation for the Loeb. I adored getting to dig through Vassar’s history and connect that local history to the complex history of collecting and display in America. And somehow that dovetailed perfectly with my history class with Professor Merrell about Revolutionary-era America.

I ended up writing term papers for both classes about Charles Willson Peale’s natural history museum, focusing on creating American identity through the control and collection of the natural world and other cultures. That’s my advice, write two papers on one topic from two different angles.

And it’s even better if you can apply it outwards into your real life. That class and those papers are what helped me solidify my love of museums. And it helped me understand what I love about them. I am fascinated by how they use objects to create a narrative and further an agenda and how that plays out in their education mission and collections.

But really, learning to look at one topic in depth from a thousand different angles is what a liberal arts education has given me. Being able to use religious studies and history and anthropological theory to learn about one topic is the best thing I’ve learned how to do. And making those cross-discipline connections are what excites me about my education and the future.

And that is what I want to carry outwards from Vassar. I want these interdisciplinary connections to be a part of my daily life and understanding of the world around me. And I don’t think I could really get rid of them anyway, Vassar has drilled a way of thinking into my head that has helped me understand what I want in life and how I can make the world a better place.

Obviously I have emotional connections to people and places associated with Vassar, too. I love my friends and I love the Retreat and the Loeb and the blue heron that lives by the TA bridge. But it is the academic web of ideas, histories and theories that I’ll use every day.

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