Every once in a while, you’ll find that professor who gives you free range on essays. I have always found that Middlebury professors want you to be inspired by your work, that they encourage you to be innovative and creative in your research and papers, but that often still comes with prompts and structure. Every so often, though, you will walk into a class that is all about exploration. I am currently enrolled in two classes in which the professor provides structure for essays but also makes it very clear that she does not want to tell us what to explore. Every essay comes with a “your choice” prompt. Pedagogically, she wants us to find something that means a great deal to us in the hopes that we will use this topic to really let us grow and develop as students and people. Giving us free range allows us to be the best possible versions of ourselves, because we want to learn as much as we can about a subject for reasons that are not purely rooted in obtaining a good grade.
While it may seem obvious that writing about something you are interested in is more rewarding than writing about something about which you care little, but it has really come into focus for me this semester. I am currently working on an essay about various works of the children’s author Kate DiCamillo, and I am not writing about her because she was assigned reading, but instead because I happened to pick up Because of Winn-Dixie on a plane and fell in love. I immediately wanted to read everything she had written, and more than that, I wanted to bring all of this reading together in an academic way that would then become part of my Middlebury learning experience. I actually wanted to write an essay on this author. Just reading her work wasn’t enough; I needed to pull apart her novels, see how they fit together and where they find their place in the literary canon. Because I was given free range over what to write my essay about, I was free to find my own inspiration, and this has led to writing a really fun essay that I can honestly say I am proud of.
As an English major, I have written many an essay in my time at Middlebury. I have been given a lot of freedom in my writing, and I have also been put under a lot of constraints. Each essay has led to new discoveries and a deeper understanding of not only the material, but also who I am as a student. Not essay assignment, though, has really exemplified the Middlebury ideals of exploration, discovery, and inspiration in the way this essay has. Every once in a while, you’ll find that professor who gives you free range on essays, and every once in a while your whole perspective will change.