My First Three Weeks as a Johnnie: Tessa Wild (A23)

September 13, 2019 | By Tessa Wild (A23)

Tessa Wild (A23) reflects on the beginning of her Johnnie journey.

The sun was warm, and the air smelled of daisies and new words. Jittery freshmen had gathered in a circle outside of Francis Scott Key Hall, bursting to discuss what exactly it was that Theophrastus had meant when he wrote about the ‘parts’ of a plant in our summer reading—what makes a part a part? Can a part be a whole? Why is Theophrastus even asking? Is this what our first lab will be like? Does anyone here think what I think? Am I right? Am I wrong? Am I talking too much?

It took almost precisely the duration of registration for us to collectively realize that, in fact, none of us were wrong. None of us were right, either. We’d already begun to explore an idea that would trouble us for weeks—what does it mean to be whole? Wholeness, itself, is an abstract concept. How could we possibly discover what it meant for something to be complete? After a summer of contemplation and discovery, we’d finally arrived at the place that would make us, as individuals, more wholly ourselves—whatever it was that meant.

For three days, everything was a blur. New notebooks and payment schedules, lost pillows and forgotten toothbrushes, new roommates, old clothes, “just you wait for seminar,” emergency dance lessons, “it’s 2 a.m. already!?”, no sleep, a whirlwind of crazy and calm and coffee and a race to finish memorizing the Greek alphabet. And the one unified thought running through everyone’s minds—“How has it only been three days?”— floating through the hallways where we feel like we’ve been for an eternity.

And then, suddenly, it was time for our first seminar, and the world slowed down.

A poem about the rage of a single man. We’d come prepared to discuss the first six books of the Iliad, our summer reading, but we never could have anticipated the raw galvanism of seminar. Godlike Achilles was brought back to life around the table. Brutally ripped open, put back together, tossed around the room like a juggling ball, dragged behind the chariot of our discussion. Together, we poked at the nuances of Achilles’ anger and dismantled his protective shield of pride. Lattimore lovers got in the ring with Fitzgerald devotees, and devastating taunts like “Agamemnon apologist” were thrown across the battlefield. It was glorious—electric—but where were we ourselves? Were we becoming whole yet?

On to Euclid in math tutorial, on to Theophrastus and Goethe in lab, on to circumflexes and declensions in Ancient Greek. We soaked each other’s words in like sponges. We weren’t whole yet, but we were trying.

With day five came 4 a.m. stomach pain, and a medical emergency forced me to abandon campus. How can Theophrastus be discussed if I’m not there?  I could feel my wholeness slipping away—the words in the air fell on two fewer ears. 

Then came the 9 a.m. “Are you okay?” texts, the 10 a.m. offers to bring snacks and homework, the 11 a.m. promises to record class, the 12 p.m. blankets of support and affection and connection and friendship the likes of which I’ve never experienced. With day six came “I miss you! ”With day seven came pictures and videos of campus, anecdotes and inside jokes from friends. On day eight, I returned and was folded right back into where I knew that I belonged—back with the words and back with the people who said them.

The beauty of being a Johnnie isn’t the knowledge of Homeric quotes, or the ability to grasp Aristotle’s view of the soul. Being a Johnnie is not a singular act—we, ourselves, cannot achieve wholeness. It is only through our connection, our energetic discussion and our innate thirst to understand the world, and each other, that makes a Whole Johnnie.

Now, the answers to our excitedly nervous inquires are apparent. Yes, this is what your first Lab will be like. No, no one here thinks exactly what you think, and if they do, you’re not thinking hard enough. You’re not right. You’re not wrong. You’re not talking too much.

As far as what it means to be whole? We’ve just got to keep asking each other questions.