The summer of 2009, I participated in the Arete program at the University of Dallas (UD). Over the next two weeks, other participants and I discussed the great questions that have fascinated mankind since the dawn of time.
After a morning lecture to get the intellectual juices going, I’d always meet up with my seminar group to engage in Socratic dialogue, bathed in light from the enormous fourth floor skylight of the Braniff building where we met. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 94, “They who have the power to hurt and will do none,” ran through our minds as a sort of rulebook for finding the magnanimous man, whether we were searching for him in the Book of Job or in the Japanese film “Kagemusha.” Our thoughts even danced across John Keats’ Grecian urn as we deciphered the imagery and epiphany of poetry.
After studies, there would always be something fun scheduled like swing dancing or Arete trivia. To beat the Texas summer heat, Ultimate Frisbee matches and beach volleyball inevitably took place in the late evenings. After that a quick shower and some Flannery O’Connor before hitting the sack was always in order.
Shakespeare returned the following summer, this time in Rome where I attended UD’s Shakespeare in Italy program. The literary focus was smaller: just three Shakespearean plays rather than Arete’s literary panoramic curriculum, but no less fascinating.
The liberal arts are as much about seeing as about reading the masters, so while we watched several films at Arete, for Shakespeare in Italy, the cities of Rome and Venice themselves provided a wealth of visuals to ponder. We were instructed in the art of being a discerning traveler, not the crass tourist who busily goes through the city, unaware of how to properly take it in.
Trips into the city were always full of excitement with the breathtaking art and the sound of street performers. Whether performing the funeral speeches of Brutus and Anthony in the Roman forum or finding a statue of Gobbo in the town square from “The Merchant of Venice,” there was always a sense of immediate connection between Shakespeare’s text and the metropolis he wrote about and which we were living in.
The main thing was no matter what we were doing, whether studying, discussing, reading, writing, playing or eating, we were always thinking. The liberal arts are in fact supposed to foster thought and contemplation of the truth.
I knew early on that UD was the school for me, since the school had great professors who taught things worth teaching. The summers I spent in UD summer programs were the best of my life. I got a real sense of the fellowship and academics that are what college is all about. I learned how to write and how to think, skills that helped me in high school and continue to help me in college.