For someone who is deemed to have their life together, I am confused for far too many hours of the day. My confusion stems from simply being a college student. As a student, I have too much to keep up with — deadlines, exams, quizzes, assignments, projects, internships, labs and so much more. Let’s not mention, trying to keep up with neurobiology. Keeping up with all of these things would be fine if only I knew what I was doing it for. I sometimes question why I am in college and when I will figure out. Truthfully, I sometimes feel that I am in college because it is simply what is expected of me. According to Stephen Kuusisto, what I am feeling is normal and validated.
The first time I met Stephen Kuusisto, I thought to myself, “Is he really blind?” I deem myself to be a highly observant person and I was sure that like most people with sight, I could tell when a person was blind. The conventional image of a blind person is one who typically wears dark shades and has a guide stick. The conventional idea of a blind person is one who has suffered through life and was robbed of the liberty to fully experience the world. Like most conventional ideas, this one is not accurate, at least not for all blind people. Kuusisto walks with conviction and he walks with confidence. He walks as though he has a purpose in life and he is right on track to fulfilling that purpose.
Kuusisto began his visit to our classroom speaking about public intellectuals. Though I knew what “public” meant and what “intellectual” meant, I wasn’t sure how both words related to each other in order to form one term. Kuusisto explained that a public intellectual is “someone who has great learning but decided to not focus their learning on universities but rather outward, towards their culture”. Public intellectuals such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Voltaire emphasize the problems of society and work to find solutions to these problems. According to Kuusisto, public intellectuals rose from universities.
“A lot of people don’t know why they’re at universities,” Kuusisto says. If that was not the most honest and relatable statement that I have heard all semester, then I do not know what is. Most students that I have met feel conflicted about why they are in college. The rule is, you go to college to figure out what you want to do with your life. Okay so you go to college, now what? Once you are actually at a university, the real challenge is figuring out if you should even be there. Struggling through this process is okay because according to Kuusisto, the reason why people started going to universities in the first place is because they had no purpose.
Primogeniture gave rise to universities because those who didn’t inherit the family’s land were forced to find something else to do. Usually, those who didn’t have access to land, would work in monasteries, preserving the content of books. Those who worked at monasteries were essentially deviants who didn’t belong anywhere in traditional culture. Thus began the rise of universities.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to take out from Stephen Kuusisto’s visit to our classroom. Perhaps I was expecting him to speak more about the book and what it was like writing it. Instead, I received valuable information. Not only did I learn what a public intellectual was, but I also learned that if I am ever confused about why I am in college or feel that I have no purpose, my journey is going the way it should be.