Our Spring 2013 students have arrived, and they are outstanding. On the coldest weekend of the season, 24 motivated new faces made their beds and filled their closets on Capitol Hill. They then trekked to Dupont Circle for the official start to the term. A short expedition and some dinner empanadas later, we gathered for some icebreakers and our opening ceremony (“What sort of person do you want to be for the next four months?”) before returning to the Hill for the first night in the closest residence to the U.S. Capitol.
This morning some students made brunch, others went for a brisk run, others attended religious services, and a few caught up on sleep after a long day of travel. After a tasty meal we hopped the Metro to the Academic Building, where we discussed leading and following (“What does great leadership look like?” “What does being a great follower look like?”), saw a short (and funny) video, and then broke up into three groups for three different leadership challenges. Each challenge put their beliefs about leadership and teamwork to the test, and the discussion that followed was insightful and productive.
Then each student met with her or his advisor (advisor meetings happen weekly for a class period), made a drug store run for forgotten items, ate a hearty Italian meal, and then gathered for our first academic session of the spring.
At that session, we saw live coverage of the attacks of September 11, 2001. The CNN coverages lasted from ten minutes before the first plane hit until President Bush’s first speech to the nation. The discussion that followed included both articulate personal responses and thoughtful historical analysis. The students also speculated on why we choose this as the first discussion topic of the semester.
Today we also went over some basic principles of our academic philosophy. I will leave it to the students to explain, but here are the bullet points:
- Being smart doesn’t make you smart. Practice makes you smart.
- The best learning happens in an atmosphere of shared vulnerability. If you are afraid of sounding dumb, you won’t learn.
- As the great Oxford academic F.J. Jackson once said, “It’s no use trying to be clever…we are all clever here. Just try to be kind…a little kind.”
- Narrow your gap.
As I write this, the students are finishing their second dorm meeting and getting ready for what will hopefully be a good night’s sleep. Our academic time together begins in earnest tomorrow, and I can’t wait to begin.