This post was written by Andrew Rees, HC Undergraduate Student Fellow
As I sit in the twilight of my undergraduate experience at BYU, I hope you will indulge me a little nostalgia. To do so, I’ll refer you to one of my childhood favorites: The Fellowship of the Ring and J.R.R. Tolkien’s timeless words: “The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.” Come April, I’ll have to leave behind many people and things that I have come to love. But today I’m not writing about what I’ll be leaving behind, but what I’ll be taking with me: my education in the humanities. As both a life science and a humanities student, mine has been a unique experience. Though I will be beginning medical school this coming fall, I can’t help but feel that the most important lessons I’ve learned at BYU haven’t been about molecules or cells, but rather about people and ideas. I believe that my lessons in culture, art and philosophy will have a much larger effect on the impact I can make in the world as a physician. In short, my education in the humanities will serve as the figurative gate in my own personal version of Tolkien’s fence. More than just letting the world in, it will allow me out.
A few years ago, a study was conducted with new medical students. Half of the students were randomly assigned to attend a course in which they read and discussed Cervantes’ Don Quixote; the other half was not. The researchers wanted to see what effect studying classic literature would have on the empathy and compassion of the future physicians. The results were dramatic. Those medical students who were enrolled in the class scored much higher on an empathy scale than their peers who didn’t take the course. These young medical students showed increased dedication to their work, increased desire to develop relationships with patients and increased satisfaction in in their career choice. They wanted to step farther and deeper into the world and make a difference. They wanted to open the gate in their personal fences. This illustrates an important point: it doesn’t matter what your profession or field is; the humanities have power. Art, literature, philosophy all increase our ability to empathize and to humanize.
In this sense, my education in the humanities will be the crown jewel of my undergraduate education. It provides the whys and what fors. It provides the humanity. My study of the human condition has come with an implicit mandate to better it. I have come to understand the many “others” they live outside the fence. As the Tolkien’s young Hobbits did, I have also learned that there are many that need helping, and just as many who can help me. This increased understanding motivates me. It propels me forward to journey out into the world and see what kind of a difference I can make.
By no means has this been a lonely journey. There are so many who have mentored my learning and helped see what the study of the humanities could do for me. I would like to take a brief minute to thank the many professors and peers that have guided me down this path. It would be impossible to single them all out by name, but I hope you know who you are. I hope you know what a difference you have made. You’ve taught me what it means to be human, to have empathy, and so much more. I’ve learned from your drive to understand and to better the world. Now I want to do the same. You’ve made gates in my fences.