Centennial Scholars

A lot my evenings this semester have been spent at Centennial Scholars presentations. My fellow Centennial scholars and I – there are about thirteen of us in my year – have spent the past three years at Barnard taking classes together and working on independent project with mentors. We get a budget from Barnard that we can use for anything that contributes to our project, and our professor tends to bring us home-baked muffins and mini-bagels during class.

We all met in sophomore year, during a class called “Working With Ideas,” where we read about DNA, the Rodney King race riots, Alice in Wonderland, and the history of New York City. It was a class like no other, with no real focus except exploring new ways to think and learn. We knew that eventually we would have to come up with projects and give presentations, but senior year seemed far away, so we tried not to think about it.

Weirdly, senior year is here – and even more weirdly, it’s almost over. And the projects that have sprung from that uncertain, confused bunch of nineteen-year-olds continually astound me. One woman played the flute on the streets of Oxford and composed a photographic essay about the experience. One recorded a radio program about musicianship after going on tour with a band. One made a short film and started a non-profit after studying in the Dominican Republic when the earthquake hit Haiti. We’ve produced a lot of writing, too: a memoir about a summer farming in Bulgaria, a novel about post-WWII Okinawa, a children’s book about Chinese daughters adopted into Jewish families, a collection of poetry about family and faith, and a hand-crafted zine-like book composed of photography and scraps of writing about place, displacement, and home.

The projects are impressive, and I’ll admit to feeling somewhat irrationally proud of them after watching them grow from uncertain ideas into complete, presentable, success stories. But mostly, I am impressed and in awe of my fellow Centennial Scholars, students that epitomize the intellectual drive and creative passion I see in so many of my fellow Barnard women. They’re also some of the kindest people I know; they offer articulate criticism, new ideas, and emotional support. I love spending my evenings with them, hearing the final presentation of projects I’ve grown to know, and celebrating with friends that I have come to love.