Capitalizing on free speech: Structuring time and space for creativity

Looking back, one of the things I remember most fondly about the College is that it was a place for artistic exploration. I remember being able to write poetry, edit arts articles for the Record, learn a new instrument with an amazing instructor on campus, travel to Europe and Asia and take classes in fiction and art history with some of the best professors I’ve had before or since. These were all things I did not have the chance to do within the context of a structured curriculum during high school – or graduate school, for that matter.

It is not always easy to find places in society that allow for freedom of speech and artistic exploration amongst open-minded peers. Whatever one’s criticisms of the College are, the structural opportunities for free expression in the post-graduation world can be limited even with the advantages of time and resources at one’s disposal. Often, the type of work one gets involved in depends to a certain extent on one’s politics to begin with (even though these are not usually taken into account explicitly in the hiring process), and that situation alone can dampen true artistic self-exploration.

Wherever one goes, the job market and workplace can be very competitive, and “rough drafts” seldom go over well in public. In my experience, it often takes far more time to try to smooth over a misunderstood statement than it does to move on and try one’s luck at the next place.

For instance, I can tell you anecdotally that email is not always the best place to hone one’s artistic side by practicing satirical humor. On one occasion, I told a friend that he was exceedingly good at missing the point, which I meant to be a complimentary joke in the context of our conversation about the tradition of Japanese jousting contests. At any rate, I was not riding high after that one, so to speak!

With all this in mind, one thing I would encourage students to do while they are at the College, besides using opportunities to explore their own artistic methods, is think of structural improvements that can be built into society for the exercise of artistic freedom and expression after they leave the campus – and for those now out in the workplace.

For example, one area that is challenging and offers room for expansion is that of language. For instance, it can be difficult to reconcile a truly global world in which people speak various languages with a deep, natural appreciation for a language’s tongue-in-cheek humor. This kind of understanding often goes well beyond the realm of language classes – even those taught at a first-rate undergraduate institution – and can be extremely challenging to pick up on if one has not been raised with certain books and television shows by one’s side.

I sincerely believe that the College still has a long way to go in appreciating certain kinds of diversity, such as socioeconomic diversity or the diversity of true disability – in fact, this may run paradoxically counter to the very mission of excellence that the College maintains. But it certainly offers built-in, structural time for the expression of creativity. I would encourage all students to use this time, and also to think prospectively about ways of incorporating similar opportunities into their job searches and post-graduation lives.

Paul Reyns ’08 was an English major from Walpole, N.H.