Smart with Heart

The cursory coverage of the Holocaust in my religious school’s curriculum back home could not hold a candle to survivor Max Michelson’s actual account of the genocide. Last Friday night, Michelson spoke about the strength he found within himself and the Holocaust’s effect on his Jewish faith. Words cannot begin to describe the emotions I felt as I listened to Michelson ask, “Where was man?” when he was faced with the ultimate struggle. After the talk, I had to shake Michelson’s hand before calling my mother to recount the experience. My mom and I were both at a complete loss for words.

This is all to say that I am incredibly grateful that I attended this event.

A few hours before the speaker, however, I did not even think that I would go as author Karen Russell was coming to speak at the exact same time. Her stories were enjoyable, but not my favorite. Still, Russell’s presentation had one key selling point: my teacher was offering extra credit to students who attended.

So a little boost to my essay, or the invaluable experience of meeting a Holocaust survivor? Before I had attended English class that day, I had decided that Michelson’s event would be significantly more important and special to me; but a few hours before seven o’clock, the thought of extra credit was just too tempting.

Fortunately, less than fifteen minutes before both events started, I ran into Michelson and spoke to him briefly in Paresky Commons. Meeting him forced me to reconsider my values. I finally headed over to see Michelson speak, and I did not regret doing so for a single moment.

Looking back, I am embarrassed that I even thought about sacrificing this incredible experience for just an English grade. But I know I am not alone. At Andover, we oftentimes become so wrapped up in academic success that we forget about our own personal fulfillment. We cannot always prioritize grades over everything else.

In writing this article, I do not mean to condemn students that attended Russell’s event. I do, however, believe that students should attend events and speakers out of their own interest, not solely for extra credit. As a community, I urge us to think about our actions in a greater perspective and to take a moment to reflect upon our decisions. Are we living for only academic achievement or for personal growth and exploration? I urge us to aim for the latter.