Literary circle ponders meaning of life

Marleen Rodriguez

Marleen Rodriguez

Students from the Honors College found themselves reflecting on more than just homework this semester.

The First Lady’s Literary Circle allowed honors students to join a group that would provide them with a sense of community and at the same time, the prospect of contemplating questions such as the meaning of life through literature. The dean of the Honors College, Timothy Nichols, formed the circle with the intent of giving students a social group in which they could collectively discuss and reflect on thought-provoking material.

Questions posed to the group included: “Where do we find meaning of life? How can we make that meaning form part of our experiences?” said Nichols.

Nichols has been a faculty member at SDSU for 14 years, but it was not until last August that he became the dean of the Honors College. He seized the opportunity to create a unique experience he never had during his college years.

“We don’t get a chance to think about big important questions, and Honors College was a place for that,” he said.

The First Lady’s Literary Circle discussed the book Man’s Search for Meaning, written by the psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor E. Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust. In addition to the book, students watched the 1967 comedy-drama The Graduate, which tells the story of a university graduate who has not defined his purpose in life.

“The common theme between book and movie is that they both deal with looking for and finding meaning, said Nichols.

“I encourage students to connect with others on big important questions and small silly other ones as well,” Nichols said. “The search for meaning is a lifelong process, students shouldn’t feel like they have to have it all figured out.”

He further said that students should enjoy and explore the journey.

Members of the circle also participated in an interactive project that required them to ask either someone they respected or an elder their personal opinion on the meaning of life.

“Answers varied, but there was a main focus on religion and on helping others,” said the circle’s student leader Allison Crisler, a senior English major from Arlington.

The circle may have only met three times during its course, but each encounter left members with much to think about.

“You know you’re going to die, but the idea that you’re not going to be alive some day is something members really thought about,” said Crisler.

“The meaning of life is being involved in all levels of life, not just nationally but globally,” said another member of the circle Patrick Weber.

For Weber, being involved can be doing well in every aspect of life and using it to help others.

The final discussion was held on March 1 at Woodbine Cottage. First Lady Marcia Chicoine baked brownies, and Aramark catered hors d’oeuvres. Nichols said the last discussion was exciting since every single member contributed to the discussion.

“If I hadn’t joined the circle, I would have thought about these ideas but probably after college. I don’t think I would’ve participated in a discussion like this if I hadn’t joined the circle,” said Weber, a senior math major from Montrose, S.D.

With 25 members, the circle’s first run was a success, said Crisler. It was named after Marcia Chicoine, SDSU’s first lady, who not only was thrilled about the idea of the circle but also served as the sponsor.

“It was a way for her support to be acknowledged, and the name lent prestige,” said Nichols.

The meetings were also made possible thanks to the contributions of Charles Woodard from the English Department, who served as the faculty facilitator, as well as the student facilitator, Crisler.

The First Lady’s Literary Circle will not meet during the fall semester due to the academic demands most students must comply with, especially freshmen. Instead the circle will be available for students to join during the spring semester of 2010. Nichols said spring semester is ideal because snowy weather conditions usually force students to stay in, and reading is a great activity to engage in during that time.

Interested students can find discussions from this semester’s meetings on the circle’s Facebook group. To join, students must be in the Honors College, which requires a score of 26 on the ACT and a standing within the top 10 percent of their graduating class for immediate admittance. Honors College students must graduate with a 3.5 GPA and take honors classes as part of their curriculum.

“My advice for future students is to keep an open mind and be willing to question ideas about the world,” said Weber.

#1.881814:455051525.jpg:IMG_8555.1.jpg:(L to R) Lyntausha Kuefil, Meredith Saher, Elizabeth Bosworth, Charles Woodard, Mark York, Timothy Nichols, Emily Tschetter, Daniel Breit, Jessica Graham and Ericsson Shin gathered for a recent meeting of the First Lady’s Literary Circle. They were discussing Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E.Frankl.:Ethan Swanson