The “Portrait of an Alum” blog series gives a glimpse of life after graduation, with a particular emphasis on our students’ readiness for the transition to college and how their affections and outlook have been shaped through their experiences, teachers and Christian community at Veritas. For this profile, Director of Communications Sara Kennedy interviewed 2015 graduate Nathan Brewer, a Sophomore at Washington and Lee in Lexington, Virginia. This is a summary of their conversation.
“I would love to have Mr. Trumbo’s job.”
So began my conversation with Nathan about the future he envisions for himself. As a student in the Classics Department at Washington and Lee, he immerses himself in the study of “dead languages” (his words!), in particular, Latin and Ancient Greek, and the cultures, philosophy, religion, history and literature in which those languages developed and rose to greatness.
At the conclusion of his undergraduate work, which has included a summer in Herculaneum and will involve an upcoming semester in Rome with the ICCS (Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies) program, Nathan hopes to continue to the Masters level, requiring additional language study in French, German and Italian. Nathan is fascinated by linguistics, and would study languages for their own sake (he has already added Italian to his personal to-do list before graduation), but also sees great value in the discipline of classics’ study.
A Well Trained Mind
As Veritas’ Latin faculty have affirmed for years, the precision and discipline required by Latin study provide students with a logical framework for the exploration of many other topics. For Nathan, his high school Latin classes did more than advance him to the 300 level in his Freshman year, they increased his interest in philosophy, history, and rhetoric. This discipline and training has made university level students of the classics highly valued as teachers, linguists, lawyers, anthropologists, and business professionals.
Bi-passing several levels of Latin at the university level also created space for Nathan to consider additional coursework, possibly leading him to double-major in English. But a second major is clearly not the goal for Nathan. Learning is. His appetite to go deeper, understand more, ask better questions and hear more challenging answers is inspiring.
Classics, And …
In addition to a robust academic load, Nathan is also a Bonner Scholar. As a member of this community-service scholarship program, he volunteers time each week. In the past, he has worked at a local daycare and prepared and served meals with Campus Kitchen, a meals-on-wheels styled ministry in the rural county around Lexington. This year he has coached the River Runners program, which offers an afterschool running program for six to eleven year olds in the Rockbridge community.
In addition to weekly volunteering, Bonner Scholars meet to discuss issues directly impacting their broader community and participate in a full summer internship during their college years.
Nathan has also jumped into the college ministry InterVarsity; as he continues his research with the classics department this summer, he hopes to bring together students from several college ministries to worship and study the Bible together. His church community in Lexington has also been a great joy to him, rich in both age and ethnic diversity, families, and full of cadets from VMI.
Readiness, Reflections and Reading
We do these interviews to better understand how our students experienced their transition to college life after Veritas. Like many of our graduates, the writing program, and especially the senior thesis project, set Nathan apart. His writing has been distinguished with awards at Washington and Lee; his reading comprehension and thinking skills, cultivated by deep classrooms discussions of excellent literature over many years, have likewise served him very well.
Nathan describes his social experience as “a series of greater and lesser shocks” as fellow students wrestle the temptations of self-destructive behaviors. A classicist at heart, he knows “there is nothing new under the sun”, but genuinely longs for his peers not to miss the rich and full academic experience at Washington and Lee.
For Veritas students looking toward their university years, Nathan encourages students to do two things:
- Challenge yourself – academically, socially, and physically. Take the hardest classes, not the easiest. Run the extra mile. Read books that make you work. You can do more than you think!
- Sleep more. Find patterns of Sabbath and rest, especially and counter-intuitively when life is the most stressful.
Finally, when asked to suggest a couple of must-reads, Nathan suggested two:
- The Analects of Confucius for its focus on seizing every moment as an opportunity to see the world as it could be. This book, much to his dismay, has so inspired his thinking that Confucius replaced Socrates as Nathan’s favorite ancient philosopher (very hard for a classicist to admit!)
- The Oresteia trilogy by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus. Americans, he said, do not understand what it is like to have a king. But the world of The Oresteia is a world of kings, absent ones who will return someday to set everything in their kingdoms right–only, those who return never measure up to the expectations of their subjects.
In Nathan’s view, not much has changed since ancient times. As he gets to know his classmates, invests in the rural and struggling community around his campus, watches the news, travels through Italy, sees Shakespearean plays, and talks with his professors, the poignant longing for someone to restore beauty from brokenness, to set everything aright feels universal.
The world is broken, and waiting for a king. It is in this brokenness that Nathan finds the beauty of Christ, a king who will set everything right, the One who made the world as it should be, and will again.
It is our prayer that Nathan will continue to grow as a young man with a strong mind, soft heart and full soul. One day, he may just join Mr. Trumbo in the Humanities Department at Veritas.