For this Carolina alum, an honors class begins a lifetime of education for the sake of learning as the goal


February 23, 2017 | By Lane McDonald, Advisory Board Member

Lane McDonald, Institute for the Arts and HumanitiesI bumped along in high school and my first 7 semesters at Carolina with this attitude.  I worked harder in some classes than others, retained more of some classes than others (surprisingly narrow Venn diagram overlap between these phenomena), but learning for interest or pleasure didn’t jibe with the way I thought about “school.”

That was until my second semester senior year.   I had the job I wanted (had already cashed my signing bonus) and enough credits to graduate, so I found myself uncharacteristically ‘big goal’-free.  I thought about traveling but didn’t want to miss my last spring in Chapel Hill.  I could have not taken any classes, but all of my friends were going to be taking classes, and I’m not good at being bored.  So, I then found myself perusing the course catalogue with a fresh perspective; what classes did I want to take?  What sounded interesting?  What would be fun to learn?

I didn’t gravitate towards the classic second semester senior year cupcake classes, nor the classes which solely fit into the 11-2 window, rather set my schedule based on what I thought would be cool.

I had traveled to Vietnam spring of my junior year while studying abroad and found the culture, people and red-hot economic engine fascinating, but I did not have a deep enough historical,  political or economic context to reconcile “Vietnam” the war with the vibrant Vietnam I found in my travels.  I needed a bridge.

So it was that I found myself in an honors political science course on the Vietnamese Perestroika at 8 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays with Professor Jim White.  I had to argue my way into the class as I was neither a POLI major nor in the honors college. I am still not quite sure which argument won the professor over, likely the novelty of having a second semester senior fight to get into an early morning honors class not in her major? But once I was in, I was all in.

I participated in the discussions because I was curious, and behaved as such rather than displaying my usual head-down copious note-taking, ears out for quotes to impress professors by parroting them in papers.  I came to office hours to go deeper into nuances I wanted to understand more fully; this was a chance from my usual ‘show-my-face’ strategy to help my participation grade.  I did the suggested (not assigned) reading because it helped to deepen and broaden my perspective.  And I wrote a 25-page opus rather than the 5 pages that were assigned because I had more to say.  I was not a popular addition to this class for the other students.

In some ways it’s too bad that my intellectual awakening happened so late, but the good news is it did happen, and in enough time for me to leverage UNC as a resource to feed it.  Of course, I still keep my eyes on the next ‘big goal’ and still strive to optimize the minimum work for maximum benefit equation.  But, learning for interest, nourishing curiosity and digging to the next level of understanding is also ingrained in me now.  And I have Carolina to thank for it.