In the midst of realizing that I still had six papers to write for two professors and only about another month left of classes, Dr. Shrader asked if I would like to write the student preface for the book you are now holding in your hands. He told me that the work I had done in terms of editing the papers had earned me that right, if I so chose. I quickly jumped at the chance, but after weeks of thought and reflection, I have come up with nothing more than the paragraph you are now reading. I am hoping the rest will “come to me” as I go along,
I attended the 1998 conference as a spectator. I was a freshman, still quite new to philosophy at that point, and thought I might find out just how much I did not know, and whether I could conceivably pursue it as a major. I have to blame my fiancée for this; it is all his influence. He dual-majored in Philosophy and English and worked on the conference committee for three years.
I had a great deal of fun at the conference—even though I had no idea what was being said by the people at the front of the room. I did not know much about any philosophers beyond Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. What the heck was this guy Nietzsche talking about? And who is Wittgenstein? Kant? Hegel? Then, for some reason, when I was registering for classes for the fall, I asked Dr. Shrader if I could join the conference committee. Actually, I think that he is the one who asked me, now that I think about it. And even though I knew about the late-night meetings and frantic rush of activities in the months preceding the conference, I agreed. I am happy to say that it was a good decision.
Although working on the conference planning committee is more demanding than traditional classes, it is also far more personally gratifying—and may be the best college experience I will ever have. That’s probably the reason I signed on as Student Chair of the committee this year, and will most likely volunteer for the position again next year.
In the year and a half since I attended my first undergraduate conference, I have declared philosophy as my major, taking many classes that I never thought I would. (Metaphysics? What’s that?? . . . umm, wait, I still don’t know!) I have made philosophy my life. My dream is to teach Asian Philosophy, particularly Hinduism, Buddhism, and Daoism.
Working on the conference last year, I found out firsthand just how much work goes into something like this. And that no matter how well you plan, some things will still go wrong. But if, throughout the year, you have created a good group that works well together, any little mistake can be covered in an instant, and only the committee members will even know that it happened. I would not trade it for any other experience in the world.
At the closing of the 1999 conference, I had an immense feeling of accomplishment. Knowing that ten of us (along with Dr. Shrader’s never-ending and helpful support that we couldn’t live without) had put together a conference where people from all over the country came together and had a great time, and where I actually understood what was being said, felt absolutely wonderful. I now feel confident in my ability to understand what is said to me at the conference, and I feel confident enough in myself that I plan to submit a paper next year.
I cannot begin to explain how being on the conference committee has helped me. I definitely have much better organizational skills, but it’s more than just the superficial things. Much more. It’s the feeling of confidence in yourself, the knowledge that you can help to create a conference for undergraduate students that is quickly growing beyond anyone’s imagination. When Kerri Nicholas and Alex Slater went to Dr. Shrader five years ago and asked if they could put on a conference for students, I’m sure that they never imagined that the conference would, in just five years time, be getting submissions from students in California. Working on this committee has given me something to be proud of myself for. This conference, and the knowledge that I helped to make it happen, has worked wonders for my self-confidence and self-esteem.
All I can say is “thank you” to Dr. Shrader, for letting me be a part of this, and for having the confidence in me to be the committee chair. And of course, thank you to Kerri and Alex, because without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
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