Existential Dore: How to create meaning with a mindful viewpoint
Taking the time to reflect on your day-to-day life as a Vanderbilt student creates the thinking skills necessary for understanding not only yourself but also the broad Vanderbilt experience.
September 25, 2020
Nothing spoke to me more powerfully than the day I walked back onto campus for the first time in five months. Walking over the bridge from main campus to Commons, I realized that I had made this same trip a hundred times during my first year without a single thought. But, being back on campus, I found tranquility in a place I had been away from for far too long. From the major events like the Founders’ Walk to the small occurrences like the 8 a.m. commute to Wilson Hall, every moment at Vanderbilt had meaning in one way or another.
Hello, everyone. My name is Tucker, and I am a sophomore studying Chemical Biology and Medicine, Health & Society. As someone who is introspective about different events and moments, I try to derive meaning about who I am and what I am passionate about, As part of my column, I’m excited to share my thoughts about where and when I can find meaning as a Vanderbilt student.
To start off, my column’s name comes from the word “existentialism”. This term was popularized after World War II as an ideology emphasizing the freedom of the individual to create meaning by interpreting personal thoughts, feelings, actions and even existence. The philosophical jargon might be a little confusing, but to simplify the topic: I’m interested in using the process of existentialism to derive meaning from my experience as a Vanderbilt student.
Now, how do we put on our thinking caps and create this meaning? As I start off my sophomore year, I continue to ask myself questions about the Vanderbilt experience. Let’s start with a scenario: I am cooped up in the dorm room, rushing to study for an exam the next day. There are two options. Should I study for one more hour in hopes of a better test grade? After all, part of my college experience is the pursuit of academic achievement in a society that measures success based on excellence and prestigious careers in medicine, law and finance. But, with that one hour, I could also take a break, go outside and possibly socialize with other people. I also know that college is also about strengthening personal relationships with peers which will last longer and more meaningful than a Brightspace test grade.
Bam, I just translated one event in my day into a nuanced conversation, arguing between the pursuit of achievement and happiness. My goal is to apply this same thought process to all aspects of Vanderbilt, whether it is a class, a student organization or even a daily part of my routine, like hanging in my dorm room or getting breakfast. Throughout our lives, moments pass by, and events take place to which we never give any thought. That is why I like to see individual moments as a microcosm for the large-scale questions I think about. Why am I going to college? What am I looking to get out of my four years at Vanderbilt? These are big questions to think about. And if you can’t answer them now, that is okay.
I have a challenge for you: think about something that you experienced or took part in today. What took place? Was there a particular reason for this moment? How can you connect it to any other prevailing themes in your life?
Asking yourself the questions I just posed is a great way to flex your thinking muscles. The essence of thought is a process I admire because it is how we create meaning, mindfulness, and feeling. As part of my vision for the existential dore, I’ll share how I use existentialism to find meaning in my college experience. As we delve into life at Vanderbilt, I hope that I can share with you all not only to appreciate your time at Vanderbilt but also to appreciate the various ways others choose to spend their time in college.