Issue 5, Spring 2010
Celebrating Student Writing: A Reflection on the Undergraduate Writing Symposium
The process of writing a paper in college can be truly intimidating, and finding the time to do it properly can seem impossible. From inception to completion, from the moment I pull my chair out from underneath my desk to the last few minutes I spend correcting punctuation errors, my heart consistently races. Also, as a student who is involved in many activities outside of the classroom, it’s hard not to ask myself before beginning to write a paper: How much time and effort am I willing to devote to this to get an A? What about a B? But, something just seems wrong if all I have accomplished from my hours of hard work and late-nighters (if not all-nighters) is a letter grade on a piece of paper, which is why it is nice to celebrate the writing that comes from truly making an effort to find the time to sit down and face my fears.
Vanderbilt’s First Annual Undergraduate Writing Symposium, which I had the honor of participating in during the spring of my freshman year, went far beyond rewarding those students who had written “A” papers; it celebrated their writing and recognized their commitment and dedication to academics. It was a testament to the fine nature of the University that we attend and the pride that Vanderbilt has in the intellectual achievements of its undergraduate students. Having the Provost address us at the beginning of the event and the Dean of the Commons address us at the end solidified its importance and confirmed how much of an honor it was to be invited to participate.
Furthermore, the event facilitated dialogue among students that otherwise may have never come about. When I turned to another first-year student sitting next to me and introduced myself, instead of having a commonplace conversation about what dorm we were living in or how much we loved “fourth meal,” we found ourselves discussing film as a literary work. Without question I would pinpoint this moment as the first time that I realized what the University’s commitment to living and learning in the same space is meant to accomplish-- a sharing of intellectual thoughts and ideas.
The Symposium created a sense of community among us as participants. We sat together and listened to each other read our papers out loud, and to my own surprise I found myself captivated by what the other students had written. From creative short stories to biology papers, the Symposium gave me the opportunity to listen to what my peers were writing about in classes that I might never take. It showed me the diversity of interests that students posses, which was not only intellectually stimulating but also a privilege that I feel lucky to have been given.
After I read my own paper, the floor opened up to questions: Why did I analyze certain passages the way that I had? How did I even come to see the connection between the characters I had written about? The questions I was asked made me think back to the choices I had made, why I had made them, and even made me realize that I could have taken my paper in a completely different direction. Thinking about a paper I had written months before proved to me that writing is a process, and the only way you can get better at it is the same as with everything else: practice, practice, practice. After the Symposium was over, I went back to my dorm room and reread my paper by myself. While I didn’t make any official edits (I’m not that devoted), I did rethink the decisions I had made and my reasons for making them. I reread, reanalyzed, and learned. A paper which otherwise would have become nothing more than just another “dusty” computer file came alive again.
The Undergraduate Writing Symposium did more than merely recognize a paper I had written for my English literature class. It boosted my confidence as a writer and gave me the opportunity to engage with other students on a purely academic level. As a first-year student who was still settling in to college-level expectations, having been selected to participate showed me the potential that I have as both a student and a writer, and highlighted the importance of written communication in every field of study.
In addition, I learned that while Vanderbilt might present great opportunities to its students, it is truly up to us as the students to take the initiative in pursuing them. Sure, I was nominated to participate in the symposium, but it was up to me to decide whether I wanted to accept the nomination and submit my paper for review. The Undergraduate Writing Symposium was a celebration of the extraordinary talent that exists within our University’s student body as well as a reminder of how much the opportunity to share and exchange our thoughts and ideas contributes to our educational experience.