June 2008 – the last week of the Academy and Project Years. The first article I wrote on this website raised the question of identity, whether we would live in the tradition of previous years and how we would create our own ways. Looking back, it seems that it is now possible to recognize a group identity, albeit an unusual one.
In my view, this year’s class is not characterized so much by a group spirit so much as by a group of individuals living and studying together. Visiting alumni have told colourful stories of a close-knit community atmosphere, passionate couples, late-night parties and inspired student initiatives – students acting together with one voice. But the experience of this year represents a contrast. It all began in the winter term, with the study of Plato’s Republic. Investigating the question of education, the dominant reading of the term saw the Republic as fostering the ‘Socratic fire’ of individual self-realization.
Individualism then is probably the most fitting description for the class of 2008. Everyone has been doing his or her own thing, some spending all their free time exploring the vastness of Berlin, others focusing on their studies in Pankow, or on future plans. This is not to say that people disliked each other, on the contrary, but the pattern of this year was that people hung out and got to know each other on a one-to-one basis, rather than in groups. Many of us confronted ourselves this year, discovering our own needs and tapping into sources of inspiration. Indeed it seemed to be a year of self-reflection for a lot of us.
Now in the final week, students are writing their last essays and preparing for the coming goodbyes and post-ECLA life. People talk about future plans and some are planning to visit each other over the summer. Teachers are this week giving special seminars in which they can teach on matters of personal interest, covering Dostoyevsky, Borges, Walter Benjamin, Henry James, Georg Simmel and a movie, The Treasure of Sierra Madre.
Academically, this has been a successful year. Of course, everyone has a favourite term and a term that did not work out, but there have been many inspired discussions. Throughout the year students seem to have improved their faculties of posing critical questions and preserving intellectual honesty. Guest lecturers are reported to have been impressed by the questions and arguments put forward by students. For many this has been a year of academic discovery. Students found out what and how they want to study, or what and how they certainly do not want to study. Around four or five of us will stay for another year at ECLA. Others move on to other liberal arts colleges, state universities or prepare for internships and an exploration of the working world.
This then, if anything, defines our year. Soon the rooms will again be vacant and ECLA, its teachers and administration, will open for the next batch of students to come, for new people to find their own group identity through liberal education between the walls of ECLA and to find their own ways to unlock that treasury of experiences called Berlin.
by Martin Lipman (’08, Netherlands)