Actually, it’s my parents who’ll be needing one. It should say something like: “my son is an honors student at Lewis and Clark College.”
You can get me one of those t-shirts that says something like “I spent a year of my life learning about the implications of the Anthropocene for architectural production and all I got was this stupid T-shirt.”
If it’s not painfully obvious, I’m being facetious, pompous, and maybe a bit annoying.
Actually more than a bit annoying, and I apologize. Maybe you, dear readers around the interwebs, felt some stir of emotion after reading the above. How can he be so ostentatious about receiving honors?
Yikes, now I sound deprecating! That’s not what I wish to do. I’m very happy that I received honors and that I produced a scholarly work worthy of distinction in the eyes of several men who have guided my intellectual growth with great care and inspiration.
The truth is, receiving honors is complicated.
Sometimes I lurk pretty hard on my fellow thesisers, and this morning I read an interesting post by Kelsey. In her post, she expresses some of her frustration with the honors process and the politics of prestige. Honors distinction, she argues, is a process that favors those with more time on their hands. I don’t disagree with Kelsey, it takes time to write a good paper, and the only thing I feel now that I’ve defended my thesis is thank god that’s out of the way, now I can keep working on it without anything hanging over me head! In response to Kelsey, I wonder though, if time (rather, the allocation of time, that is, the time one makes available for such things as pursuing honors for their thesis) is a reflection of priorities. I think it is. I have kayaked maybe twice (MAYBE) this semester. For those of you who know me, whitewater is my muse. It’s my philosophical inspiration and has served as an apt metaphor or way of thinking through life for me for many years now. I spent weekends working on my thesis instead of kayaking. A large part of me thinks I would have written a better thesis, and been more productive in general, if I allocated more time to kayaking to reap it’s mental, physical and “spiritual” benefits. Live and learn, so to speak.
But I find this topic of prestige fascinating. It seems like such a juicy peach, on the one hand to be indulged upon, savored, and favored; one the other hand to be torn apart for perpetuating inequalities, unrealistic standards of ‘success’ and what it means to be a ‘good’ peach, etc.
Prestige seems like something worthy of critique, and something academics would be suspicious of, however it’s such an ancient aspect of academia that doing away with it seems impossible.
I mean, I get frustrated all the time with my Reed friends who seem to get opportunities handed to them by strangers only because Reed has ‘a reputation.’ No really. One time while kayaking, I now, my special place, my friend and I struck up a conversation with a fellow kayaker at the takeout about his car. By the end of the conversation my friend had a new job at OHSU because the guy, who happened to be a PI in a big lab with a new grant, knew of Reed’s reputation. This is BUT ONE instance (of several!) of this kind of ‘preferential treatment’ of Reedies due to the school’s ‘reputation’ that I have witnessed.
I know LC has produced a Rhodes scholar recently, and we create thoughtful people. But I can’t help but feeling we lack in certain areas. We can’t apply for Watson fellowships to name one. Tradition being another biggie (creative traditions like all those darn Reedies have!), and name recognition being yet another, more nebulous dimension. Our faculty are TOP NOTCH, our facilities truly world class, our location (Portland) unmatched (well, except by those darn REEDIES), etc. etc. etc. Maybe our administration needs some work, but you know, just a bit….
So, what’s in a name? Is it really a reflection of intellectual capacity? Is honors distinction similar? What’s the point of prestige, of privileging one persons work over that of another? Maybe I wrote a thesis that received honors and grew a bunch. But maybe someone else wrote a non-honors thesis but grew ten times more. How do we measure and recognize such things as personal growth? Should we institute a ‘most improved’ award? If everyone got an award what’s the point of awards in the first place?
In the end, I know that it was worthwhile for me to pursue honors, and deciding to take on any challenge is ultimately up to the individual. Such decisions require thoughtful and careful consideration of priorities, time allocation, and myriad other decisions that factor into the overall pursuit. But I can’t help but wonder if there is something fundamentally… Maybe not fundamentally. I dunno how to say it, something unfair, somehow, with the whole concept of prestige. I recognize competitive advantage is a thing, way back in the day the good hunters were good because they not only were born able-bodied, but worked hard to hone their skills, prioritizing food collection over social interactions and leisure time. They probably commanded respect.
Is Honors, and academic prestige in general, some sort of intellectual darwinism?
Anyways, that’s all I got for now on the issue. It’d be great to hear some other thoughts outside of my own head.
Let me reiterate I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, I’m sincerely grateful to those who have helped me achieve it, to those who have guided my intellectual development, I’m looking forward to continued challenges, academic and otherwise, continued growth, next “chapters!” and the rest.