Written by Nathan Pastrano.

Last spring, I found myself doing what I considered to be daring. No, not daring as in eating an entire pint of ice cream in one serving, going downtown the night before an exam, or even skydiving. Instead, I was completing my last five undergraduate English courses in one semester. Yup, you read that right:

all five, at once.

But just what was it that compelled me to begin this journey?

I was uncertain of the answer to this question for quite some time, thinking maybe I just wanted to give myself a taste of graduate school. Regardless, I went with my gut and signed up for courses diverse in both genre and literary era: the Middle Ages, the Early Black Atlantic, the Neo-classical period, Romanticism, and the contemporary.

In hindsight, I can now say confidently what kept me so interested.

It was making the connections between each period, seeing how the novels echoed one another, studying, understanding, and learning from the struggles of different characters, and heeding the words of wisdom each author had to offer.

And now,
after careful deliberation,
I give you a presentation of truths.

“Beauty was not simply something to behold; it was something one could do.

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

Society expects people to follow universal guidelines of beauty. These standards place limitations on the qualities unique to an individual, and those who lay outside of these standards are considered ugly, inhuman, and unacceptable.

Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” discusses this topic in detail, explaining thoroughly how society both subconsciously and purposely uses these standards to create and uphold an image of the perfect person that is near impossible to achieve.

But the reality is this: because beauty is entirely subjective, it is actually found within individuality. You should just be you.

From era to era, the topic of beauty would always extend well beyond the introspective realm of thought and into the external—particularly into the environment. The world we live in is suffering from pollution, endangered animals are under the constant threat of poaching and extinction, and the remaining lands we continue to colonize are often left neglected. But, this shouldn’t be news to you.

Often, we think our individualized efforts like recycling and using reusable water bottles will solve nothing. But in number, these efforts do more than meets the eye. It’s a team effort. The beauty of our world needs to be preserved and cherished so future generations can experience and appreciate it just as we do.

“Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to a mind
when it has seized on it like a lichen on rock.”
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Take school seriously, get good grades, have a nice career—you’ve heard it over and over again. However, education is much more than just getting a degree. It’s about broadening your scope of the world and being conscious of the issues that surround you, regardless of their effects on you personally. It’s about having conversations that make people uncomfortable, something needed now more than ever in today’s political climate.

Mary Shelley, a famous 19th-century novelist, discusses the power of education in detail. Shelley use characters like Frankenstein, the classically misunderstood monster, to demonstrate how an education can instill empathy, resilience, and confidence.

Frankenstein finds himself reading and studying novels, taking the time to listen, understand, and learn from the stories of others. He then goes on to use these tools to shape his character—steps we should consider following.

Remaining in silence and ignorance brings forth no resolve.

“Own yourself.”
Toni Morrison, A Mercy

Self-appreciation is an important theme that pops up frequently. Toni Morrison, for instance, echoes this throughout her works, emphasizing that learning to love yourself is a keystone for achieving success.

Owning yourself means acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses, your peculiarities, and most importantly, what makes you, you.

It means recognizing and appreciating your milestones and not comparing yourself to others. Failing to do so results in minimizing self-worth, which disables you from loving and appreciating yourself in a world pre-set with socially constructed expectations.

Be kind to yourself.

“The worst form of injustice is pretended justice [and pretended fairness].”
Plato, The Republic

The opening of Plato’s “The Republic” jumps straight into exploring the definition of justice, who gets to define it, and how it should be practiced. These ideals are still very relevant today. Law or not, morality and ethics should never fail to be taken into consideration, especially when the lives and feelings of others are at stake. Plato concludes his novel’s introduction by encouraging readers to challenge, rethink, and re-envision the world they live in. If something doesn’t sit right, call it into question. Challenge it. Be that change.

“Blah blah blah. Quit making up excuses. There’s a book out there for everyone.”

Nathan Pastrano

You just haven’t found the one for you. I wasn’t too fond of reading prior to declaring English as my major, having stopped long before college. It was books that discussed sensitive topics like self-appreciation that changed my mind about reading in general.

Moving forward, I plan to integrate everything I learned last semester into my writing. I’ve decided to write about the things everybody refuses to discuss. Through my writing, I’ve decided to be that change.

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