Audrey Pettner, a Freshman from Fort Collins has been awarded a Coop gift card for her essay in the first annual Transcript Project competition. An account of the contest and the six winners appears in this Crimson Article. Here is Audrey's essay:
Two Sides of the Same Coin
It’s not that I’m controlling. I just like to have a plan. My daily routine reads like a Swiss watch-- precise, yet elegant in its simplicity and consistency. Each morning up at five-thirty, breakfast (always with half of a grapefruit) exactly two hour later, the gym at six, asleep no later than nine forty-five. I thrive on the familiarity of the consistent and have yet to meet a desk drawer I’ve failed to conquer. At first glance I am a picture of precision, someone destined to remain stagnant in a world of change. You would be forgiven, then, for assuming my transcript followed a structured method even remotely similar. And yet, academically—and in my soul-- I am every part the wild artist.
My transcript is my canvas, washed, painted and stretched (admittedly even a little frayed in some places) by the rigor and diversity of the courses I choose. Some areas are light, atmospheric, delicately composed of unusual subjects like Irish Mythology. Others are wrought with the messy, jagged brushstrokes of anatomy and physics -- perhaps a little tortured but no less powerful to behold. My courses are not individual boxes to be ticked on a checklist to graduation, but rather a nuanced palette of academic experiences.
Most of the courses I have taken are designed to layer into this rich background, giving depth, texture, and contrast to an abstract landscape all my own. Every once and a while, however, a class becomes a broad, defining, brushstroke that shapes not only the canvas of my transcript, but also the future patterns of my life. Enter my Freshman Seminar: Money Matters!. It was an odd choice to take my first semester of college: I had never taken a seminar-style course before and my knowledge of numismatics (the study of coins, currency, and medals) was limited to the quarters I used at vending machines. I kept putting it to the side in favor of more “serious” classes, ones that would take me miles away from my comfort zone of history and art. Yet something about the class kept pulling at my soul. Even just reading the description, something felt right. And so I applied with bold authenticity. What followed was a semester that changed my life.
I’ve always known I have a deep love of objects (during shopping week, I quite literally stand in front of the rows of course books in the COOP to see what classes “feel” right). What I did not know, however, was that this love of the tangible world translated into a method of study: material culture.
Each week, for three hours on Thursdays, our class would sit in the Harvard Art Museum study room, allowed to hold coins spanning in origin from 6th century B.C.E. to the 20th century. It was invaluable—not just to see, but to physically hold these remnants of the past. To feel the weight and texture, to the see the glint of gold and silver. To remind yourself, in the great wisdom of Claude Levi-Strauss, the humans of the past were not simply nameless, faceless masses fundamentally different from ourselves. No, they too longed for security, prosperity, fulfillment. . . goals whose attainment were often tied to the availability and reliability of the coins we now study. Paradoxically, material culture also offers a window into the cultural context that shapes the differences between ourselves and our historical counterparts. Through interacting with the coins, we in the class were allowed the distinct pleasure becoming a part of the legacy of these cultural capsules.
In taking this class, my learning did not simply stop with the syllabus, but also extended into my understanding of myself. An incredible opportunity came over parent’s weekend; the chance to curate and present our own mini collections to our parents in the art study room. In what was only a few hours of preparation, I fell in love with curation. Given seemingly unlimited freedom to explore the Harvard Art Museum catalogues, I selected a roster of four coins I hoped mixed the breadth of the course with the objects I personally found to be most inspiring. I was at first a little timid in my approach, sticking with the more traditional “showpiece” coins, skipping over the lesser known pieces I worried might not capture the same grandeur. In retrospect, I wished I’d been a little bolder in my choices, a touch more experimental.
Yet I didn’t need to worry long. This exercise in curation was repeated with the print collection at the Baker Library. This time, I was prepared. I spent hours pouring over spreadsheets giving only the briefest descriptions of inscriptions and imagery. In my mind, then, I began to organize the chaos, extracting the common threads and weaving them together. My professor and the staff at the Baker library were endlessly patient with my inquiries, giving me the tools and support I needed to explore a new passion. I found that curation allows for organized artistry—unusual, even shocking pairings designed to illuminate deeper truths. By allowing myself to creatively engage with synthesizing glimpses into human experience, I in turn have reconciled the seemingly clashing parts of myself. I found a synthesis between my hyper-organized, structured methods and my innately innovative, bold, even daring nature.
Looking at my transcript, I realized I’ve been a curator all along. The beauty reflected is one of a vast ocean. I’ll run my ship with ultimate precision, yet I’m not afraid to flow where the current pulls me. This summer, I’ll find myself whisked away to Greece to spend five glorious, sun-soaked weeks immersed in learning. As for what happens after that, it’s a yet uncharted journey I can’t wait to take. I do know, however, that it will continue to take me forward into the next adventure. Whatever opportunities lie ahead, I have both the critical eye and the unbridled enthusiasm to embrace and shape a life of constant learning.