I have wanted to answer this and today I finally have time.
What initially brought me to Shimer was the amazing thing that was the Escher campaign. That campaign was brilliant in it’s simplicity and had a profound effect on my decision. I believe that Shimer heard about me, because I certainly had never heard about Shimer, when I ticked boxes on both my ACT and SAT exams for colleges under 900 students. That must be how the found me.
Before Shimer Antioch was my first choice, a great deal of that because of the politics and the community there, followed by a small college in Ohio whose name escapes me, and finally OSU because my father was very, very concerned it be on my list, preferably as a first choice. Then I got a postcard from Shimer. It was simple and to the point. Do you like to read? / Don’t you like to read? Two stickers. Pick one, put it on a side of the postcard, mail the post card in. Well, hell, I was floored. And I liked to read.
So I sent in the postcard and figured I’d see what was what. Didn’t expect much. A few days later a package arrived in the mail. It had a letter. It was written by David Buchanan. It began:
This is a form letter. I hate form letters.
I will never forget that opening of that letter that I received, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I read those words and my brain turned over and Shimer was the place I wanted to be. I was equally enticed by the lack of concern for my ACT and SAT scores, as I felt standardized testing was a load of crap (my ACT’s were good, but my SAT’s weren’t, not helped by the fact that I went to sleep for an hour during the test, and burdened by the sheer fact that I could not afford to take the test again) and that real education had to step outside of programming and onto something more.
I spent four years in High School hating education. I even forced my English teacher to turn my class into an independent study so I could learn something, which she almost held against me later, but I digress. Needless to say, I was not an average student, I was not looking for an average University, and Shimer set itself apart. Because Dave Buchanan hated form letters I loved him. And I decided to go to Shimer.
Everything made Shimer appealing at that point, but mostly that it was an escape. I did not visit the campus before going to Shimer. I signed on the dotted line, signed my future debt free world away, and on a hot day in August packed into a Van for a full day drive to a place I would call home that I had never seen before. I had talked it though. I’d talked to Dave, among others. I talked with Bill Patterson, who I immediately adored. I talked to Psyche on the phone because I liked her name and though, “This is someone I want to know.” I was manic, and a little crazy, and I was going to be taken away to some strange place I had never seen that was more attractive then anything I had known. I knew what to expect, though, from reading about Shimer in the catalog, from talking to Shimer on the phone. I new it was an odd assortment of buildings and eclectic people. Shimer did not disappoint me.
I arrived with stuff in tow, we parked next to 438, and the van officially died. Dave, and several others finally managed to find someone to come out and put a new alternator in the van so it could be moved to the parking lot so my things could be moved to Godot. I would be living in Armstrong, which was not ready. Everyone was very helpful. My mother, in typical fashion, decreed my decision and stated on the spot that I was returning home with her then and there. I did not. Shimer was my home. I cried for a long time my first night at Shimer. I had nothing to eat. I had no money. I had a box of pillows, and some clothes, and a new place to live, and I was freaking out and loosing my mind, and very very afraid, but somehow Shimer would make it all okay.
And it did.
I met Dave and enjoyed his cigarette smoking man pose and the way he dealt with my mother. I was happy and relieved. And everything did get better.
Then when it really began, after running the gauntlet and getting classes and beginning to throw myself into reading, and two day weeks, then it really, really became the place that attracted me. I never understood how people who left after a few weeks did it. Shimer seemed to perfect. Why would you want to leave?
The program was exactly what I wanted. No longer was I being programmed to thinking a preformatted way to perform much like a trained monkey on a test. I was thinking, perhaps for the first time in my life I was really thinking about what I was doing, who I was, and how I learned. Educational methodology will tell you that the kind of learning we do at Shimer is truly valuable for establishing metacognative thought and personal dependency skills. This has remained a valuable tool of Shimer. It helped me survive many things, not the least of those things Shimer. Bill Patterson told me on my third day at Shimer that I would hate it eventually. I told him he was wrong, I could never hate this.
In the middle of my second year though, I began to consider leaving. Leaving for me was not the program, it was the pressure. The pressures were the lack of money. That was it, the number one reason for wanting to leave. I could not afford Shimer. I had been on my own since I’d refused my mother and not gotten back into that van. I paid for the expenses not covered by my loans, small scholarship and grants with my work-study money. I was working 20 hours a week at Shimer the max allowed, while balancing 3 classes. I worked hard, to hard, my CWS ran out, and then I was in big trouble. I had no money, no prospects, no car, and all the other pressures of being on my own. That is what made me want to leave.
Shimer helped that too. There was intervention, and help, and assurance, and I stayed, and it was a good decision. Hard, but good. My best friend in the world moved away, he couldn’t take it anymore. I stayed and was comforted through it by my slowly coming around friend Sam, and by Psyche. Shimer let me stay through the summer’s and I loved that because it meant I did not have to go home. I always loved how quiet Shimer was in the summer time, and how wonderful Waukegan was. It was cheap and easy to live there, and I lived well on less then 70 dollars a month. Life was perfect and grand, and Shimer made it so.
Then I got sick. And Shimer helped me through that. Four days after surgery I started classes on time with everyone else my Junior year. And Shimer took care of me, and looked after me, and helped me get the help I needed. I needed that help, and Shimer, like a warm hand, took me in and kept me safe. Sam brought bread, Psyche laughter, 309 the magical mystical cures they always seemed to have, and Nancy Rose intercepted a phone call from my mother and made sure she could not find me, so that I had time to heal. Shimer was there for me when I needed it most. And I loved it for that.
I went to my classes and I continue to learn to think about thinking and learn about learning and I was very happy. The program was wonderful and I loved it. I loved my classes and the challenges, and the discussion and the writing. For my Hum comp I wrote my final paper as a formal essay by Aristotle critiquing Virgil (assuming Aristotle had lived a little longer). I learned to think outside of boxes, and passed with honors. I learned to live and be free and happy with who I was, with my thoughts and my thinking. Shimer did all that for me.
I didn’t want to leave Shimer when the end finally came, but I could not linger on. Part of that was just who I was, and part of that was knowing that I could not be in classes anymore so I had to go. I needed a little distance and I got that. I got a lot more. But I miss Shimer, and think about it often. I’m surrounded by Shimer everyday in a way, as those people whom I love more then anything, Sam, Sarah, Psyche, Wolf, Bonnie, MikeyW, David S and B, Barb, Eileen, and others and others, are all still there for me.
Last year I decided to partake in some foolishness. I need the help of Shimer which was the only place I knew that existed where I could get shot records. I called up and spoke with a student who put me on the line with Barb Boghart. She sent a fax in just a few hours and even a fed ex with the originals. Could I do that at any other institution?
During the last Winter the laws in Korea changed and Americans working here were suddenly required to present original unopened transcripts from Universities. I called Shimer and Bill Patterson answered the phone. He put me on to Barb Stones phone because Barb B. was out of the office. Barb emailed me right away and I had transcripts in less then a few days. Because Shimer is a place where we take care of each other, no matter how long we have been gone. I love that about Shimer.
I may be removed from the campus life, but I’m not forgotten. Shimer continues to look after me. Daily I return to what I learned at Shimer to read massive amounts of text and glean the important information, to argue and opinion or point and be able to support that with evidence, to help others understand and idea or concept. I learned to do that at Shimer. I refined it as a skill that I can use whenever I need to. I make impossible things happen on a day to day basis. When I have all the pieces of the puzzle I can do amazing things. Shimer showed me how to see those pieces in unusual ways. I’ll always be grateful for that.
Shimer was one of the most difficult things I ever did. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It is both appealing and unappealing, but underneath it all is the love of learning and the love of the participants that holds it together. That will keep me coming back to it every time.
When people ask me if they should go to Shimer I almost always say no. I’m selfish and I don’t want to share. So I say no and then tell them what Shimer means to me, and very rarely do they listen to that no. More often then not, it makes Shimer that much more interesting and appealing.
Shimer is a wonderful place. We are lucky to have it. If the community can survive the move, then others will find what I found in Shimer, and they will be lucky to do so. I know how lucky I am.
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