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Paper 13

mbackus's picture

Lost for Now


            College. The word elicits many different responses, reactions, and connotations. However one important and often overlooked aspect of the college experience is that of being lost. There is an unrealistic expectation, whether unspoken or otherwise, of college students to know what they want to study when they enter college. Not only is this expectation unrealistic for 18 year olds, it is also detrimental to their learning experience. But what does it mean to be lost? And how does it interact with academia? Moreover, what can be gained from it? Rebecca Solnit cites the Old Norse definition of los, from which lost comes from, as the disbanding of an army (Solnit, 7). As Solnit says, this suggests falling out of formation, or going beyond what one knows. In the academic sense, this is exactly what being lost implies. College is a time for students to go beyond what they know, to dabble in as many things as possible before discovering their passion. Being lost academically has value, it can help one find themselves academically as well as personally, shown through Rebecca Solnit’s Field Guide to Getting Lost.

            Getting lost geographically is very similar to getting lost academically. Rebecca Solnit talks about her childhood roaming and the fact that she was “able to get a little lost and then figure out the way back” (7). Rather than figuring out a way back in college, getting lost helps students find their way forward. In both cases getting lost is not only a good thing, but also a point of growth. Walter Benjamin, via Rebecca Solnit, says that “to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery…” (6). The implication of this quote is that being “lost” of mind can also mean being “present” of mind. How can this seemingly contradictory statement be true? A college student having the experience of being lost is searching for their academic passion, in doing so they are fully present in the moment and in the action of their searching. Although Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost focuses on getting lost and reorienting one’s self in a geographical sense, her wisdom can be applied to other areas of life as well. Getting lost, geographically or otherwise, lends itself to “a life of discovery” (Solnit, 14) and  “never to get lost is not to live” (Solnit, 14).

            How does one go about achieving “a life of discovery” or at least starting on one in college? More specifically, how does a student get lost at Bryn Mawr College and what does it mean? How does Bryn Mawr facilitate being lost? In the very least, an education at Bryn Mawr doesn’t allow for students to avoid experiencing courses outside of what they may be considering for a major. Like a typical liberal arts institution, the goal is to expose its students to a wide variety of areas of study. Students are required to complete divisional requirements, the goal of which is explicitly stated by the college: “The goal of the divisional requirements is to increase the breadth and variety of the student’s intellectual experience at the College. The divisions represented in these requirements describe not only different aspects of human experience, but also characteristic methods of approach.” (Bryn Mawr College). This goal nicely compliments the words of Virginia Woolf via Rebecca Solnit in Woolf’s passage from The Lighthouse where she explains that “…one is not tethered to a single mind, but can put on briefly for a few minutes the bodies and minds of others…” (16). Woolf regarded getting lost as a search for identity and passion. College is just the time to do such exploration. It may not be the explicit goal of the College to encourage its students to get lost, but the implication of these requirements is a forced discovery. While it may begin as purely academic, Bryn Mawr College fosters an environment of self-discovery, which can often times be defined through academic discovery. The College has a reputation of attracting as well as graduating students who are very passionate about what they are studying. While some of these students surely did come to Bryn Mawr sure of what they wanted to study and gone on to do just that, many of them came to Bryn Mawr with absolutely no idea of what they were going to major in. The environment at Bryn Mawr provides students many paths of discovery, whether forced by their course requirements or inspired by the examples set by preceding students

            As glorious and empowering as following “a life of discovery” is, the path is not an easy one. It is difficult to face the unknown and embrace it. But that is exactly what Rebecca Solnit and Bryn Mawr College would have one do, and that is what it means to be lost. Being lost means looking at the uncertainty of the future as a path towards discovery of all kinds. Its value is immeasurable, and the experience of being lost will carry one through their academic as well as personal discovery process. Being lost transcends college as well. It is applicable to all aspects of life, even when one has found their passion, they still must decide what to do with it, what type of life to lead, and what type of person to be. When approaching the fears and uncertainties of college, as well as life, the best one can do is to take Solnit’s advice, and “leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where you yourself came from, and where you will go.” (Solnit, 4).



Works Cited


"Divisional Requirements." Bryn Mawr College. Bryn Mawr College, 28 Aug. 2008. Web. 09 Dec. 2012.


Solnit, Rebecca. "Open Door." A Field Guide to Getting Lost. New York: Viking, 2005. 3+.



mtran's picture


I am thinking of the role of liberal education in terms of individual growth. Liberal arts education seeks to develop the interconnection among different disciplines, cultures and time. If we look at liberal education as exploration and discovery, in someway it contributes to the peace and harmony within oneself.  Liberal education seems less utilitarian. It tends to feed the soul and its curiosity. And perhaps it has something to do when it comes to a person’s relationship with nature, too?

During the semester I also had a paper on the subject of liberal education as well. I think that liberal education is just as important as it is difficult to face the unknown. Then how does a liberal education ensure that its students achieve the goal of “getting lost”, that is to explore and find identity and passion? For some people it might take longer to realize, isn’t it? Or are there those who would get lost in the course of “getting lost”, too? How do we deal with it? If the goal of education is also our society’s development, do those who spend so much time discovering themselves finally contribute more to the society?

ZoeHlmn's picture

This is weird!

Maddie! This is crazy! I very much enjoyed reading your paper, it reminded me a lot of my own but with a completely different perspective, so cool! Check mine out?