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jeremy lang
More Than I Imagined Seniors reflect on accomplishments and look ahead

​Jeremy Lang

Graduation year: 2015

Major: English

Activities: Varsity track & field

Post-grad plans: I’ll be living in Chicago this summer and working for Goose Island. After a few years in the city, I could see myself moving out West to work at a national park, or going out to sea. I’m like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary. And besides, the sail of the best ship is that of one hundred tacks, as the sage of Concord said.

Why did you choose Augustana?

I chose Augustana for the track program. So it wasn’t specifically for academic reasons, though I’d been harboring the possibility of studying English for several years. The first English class I took was American Literature from Jason Peters. Sometime during that class I remember reading about what Thoreau calls “a thousand regions in the mind yet undiscovered.” What regions? I’d only dabbled in them. It was over the course of that year and through writers like Emerson, Whitman, Melville and many others, that I began seriously traveling those regions.

Are you where you thought you'd be four years ago?

No, and I’ll tell you why. In Walker Percy’s essay “The Loss of Creature,” he talks about separating the academic package — the teacher through whom the novel or poem is delivered — from the work of art itself. That might seem obvious, but it is altogether possible for the young student to have the whole “ensemble of relations” fly straight over his head. At any rate, it happened to me.

You want to read a poem — I'm talking Shakespeare, Bryant or Wordsworth — do yourself a favor: ditch the textbook and the formal explication. Go out to the woods and read it aloud. You might, at once, catch fire at its beauty. It's an act, as Percy says, of reasserting the knower over the known. That's what I did. Nevertheless, the classroom is a place where great minds are made. It just so happens that I didn't walk into such a classroom, or a certain teacher didn't grab my attention, until sophomore year. And that's probably because many teachers believe it is intellectually chic to stand open-mouthed before the newest discovery in science-and-technology or theories about gender and sexuality, instead of showing a student the beauty in, say, poetry — the honeydew and milk of Paradise Coleridge spoke of.

Yet I nevertheless discovered great art not in spite of, but because of, my schooling. I suppose it was the combination of an inchoate interest in English and a professor whose interests were remarkably similar to mine, though the "interests" I speak of, by the standards of history, are unremarkable in their assumed place. For in today's university what is good and true and beautiful has been usurped — and it would seem unassailably — by what is diverse, theory-ridden and career-oriented. Yet there are professors who won't have any of that clap-trap. And I won't either.

Here's something worth considering: "The perpetrators of the Holocaust were heirs of Kant and Goethe," says David Orr. "But their education did not serve as a barrier to barbarity." Why? In the words of Elie Wiesel: "It emphasized theories instead of values, concepts rather than human beings, abstraction rather than consciousness, answers instead of questions, ideology and efficiency rather than conscience."

In other words, we're habituated to believe that knowledge will save us. Well, maybe. We need the right kind, the kind steeped in what is good, true and beautiful. Mere knowledge does not guarantee land health, justice, morality, etc.

Who helped you get to where you are now?

Jason Peters, Paul Olsen and Jason Mahn. They have introduced me to books I will return to many years hence, read and re-read, recommend to friends and give to my children. Had they not introduced me to them, I might never have read them. I might never have found that something I was looking for.

And what is that something I was looking for? Thomas Merton writes at the end of one of his books, Sit finis libri, non finis quaerendi (here ends the book, but not the searching). The same could be said of my schooling: here ends my undergraduate education, but not my searching.

A peak experience?

Other than summer jobs I had — I worked at an outdoor camp in the North Woods and a sailing center in Chicago — I would say reading Walker Percy. Sometimes an author comes along, strikes a certain chord and leaves you asking,"Where has this author been my whole life?" I'd say those encounters are reminders that the world is much larger than our views of it. Would I have read him seriously had I not taken a Catholic literature seminar? Had a professor not assigned him? I do not know.

One memorable classroom moment-among many others-was Dr. Peters pounding his fist on the lectern during one of his rich harangues against the modern world. "The corner of ugly and ugly? This is not okay!" He later told us to read Orthodoxy. After walking out of the class, I intended to — and did. Currently it sits on a shelf reserved for a select few.

What did you learn about yourself in these past four years that surprised you?
Here’s a question I’ve found myself asking for some time now: How do you catch a hold of yourself before it’s over? Do you, Like William Styron, “set down with the fury of a madman sculpting in stone” and for 12 years try to make sense of the Holocaust? Or like Henry Thoreau, do you ditch the city to perambulate the woods and “imbibe delight through every pore”? Or like Walker Percy, do you become a Robinson Crusoe in Dixieland? Depends on who you are. My view is that all three adequately answer that question — that is, all three were wholly alive. But what does it take to achieve that? Not a simple question, but I’d say I’m with Ed Abbey who says that “only the half-mad are wholly alive.” Those guys were probably half-mad. But they were no doubt awake.

“To be awake is to be alive.”—Thoreau

How did you use your Augie Choice?

I worked as a sailing instructor at the Judd Goldman Sailing Center in Chicago, where I took disabled folks sailing on Lake Michigan.

What will you miss the most?
It's a three-way tie between an evening at Radicle Effect, a bike ride along the Mississippi and an opportunity to explain to a fellow undergraduate (in the words of Wendell Berry) that it is "impossible to talk to somebody who is ‘telecommunicating' with somebody who is absent."

Advice for the Class of 2019?

Do not major in fear. The goal of education is to make humans-not marketable robots. The world needs more students of English, history and philosophy; people who care about the place they live, who know what it means to live by the sweat of their brow, and who can wait and watch and listen. We do not need more advocates of Faith in Progress and The Future; what we manifestly do need is storytellers, writers, builders, artists, farmers, good neighbors and lovers of every kind. We need students educated in what John Milton calls Prime Wisdom: to know that which lies before us in our daily lives.

“There are great lines from our literary heritage that, being decisive, belong deep inside us. But we must first grant them admittance and then provide them with a hospitable dwelling space, else how can they flourish? Jeremy is a reader who does this. Even his hands have been shaped by books. And I would add, without elaboration, that he is a man of proper appetites.”

 

- Dr. Jason Peters, Dorothy J. Parkander Chair in Literature

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