I think of the world as a massive spider web of connections. Absolutely everything is woven together in one way or another. For example, the connections throughout the human brain are breathtaking to say the least. Imagine the word green. What is the first thing you think of? For me, it’s my grandmother who always told me I looked good in green. But for one person it might be the trees, for another it could be mint green or dark green, for a vegan it will most likely be kale. Our brains have an amazing capability to work like machines, computing, creating thoughts, coordinating our motor functions, and then some. With a tweak in the brain, catastrophe could strike. The connections would be impinged, the machine broken.
I never thought that at 18 I’d be an arm’s-length away from a human brain. I had only ever drooled over diagrams, 3D models, charts, and photographs. I sat on my bed for hours, my laptop glowing inches away from my face while I chowed down on trail mix and obsessed over trying to understand the way everything in the brain overlapped and fit together. But the hours of analyzing pictures and scans did not prepare me for seeing the real thing.
I had been shadowing Dr. Rastogi, a neurosurgeon in Delaware, for a little less than a week for my senior project, and our patient was an 86-year-old with a nasty subdural hematoma. His brain pulsated slowly, a metronome. Its deep purple sulci and gyri peeked out of the perfect circle that Dr. Rastogi had carved out of the man’s skull like the top of a jack-o-lantern. He handled the brain as if it were his grandmother’s fine china that had never been taken out of its display case. I stood in awe of this 86-year-old man’s brain exposed in front of me. My jaw was dropped under the pale blue surgeon’s mask I had tightly tied around the back of my head and neck. His memories, his personality, his quirks, mannerisms, his whole life exposed right before my very eyes.
Our brains function in extraordinarily complex ways. They allow us to be able to cry while simultaneously having to memorize the nightmare that is the unit circle. They allow us to talk, sometimes too loudly, in the Dining Hall with friends, observe the perfect geometry of Teacher Tom Hay’s snow-white handlebar mustache, and even recognize our own reflection in the mirror. Our brains give us the ability to experience the world and make those connections imperative to human existence. They hold and create our personalities, our thoughts, likes and dislikes, and memories that shape who we become.
After my senior project, I couldn’t resist thinking about why I am me, Marité. Stubborn, witty, hard-working, hater of most vegetables, lover of most horror movies and J Crew. Sucker for classic literature and skeptic of the things I can’t observe. Petrified of failure, sharks, and the unknown. How did I get to be the way I am today? My eight years at Westtown have contributed heavily. Westtown bestowed upon me the chance to explore my interests from multiple perspectives and gave me the opportunity to understand the way connections work in more ways than simply in the brain.
In my first year at Westtown in fifth grade, we were given a project to study an Egyptian god or goddess. At first, I expected the monotonous type of research project I hated doing at the school I attended prior to coming to Westtown. To my surprise, however, the unit was much more interdisciplinary. Our task was to dress up as any Egyptian god or goddess and present them to our peers as impersonators. Not only that, in art class we made ancient Egyptian-style ceramics with animal heads. In English class, we read stories of pharaohs and rulers. And at the end of the unit, we visited a museum in Philly to see actual artifacts. Westtown purposefully instilled in my mind that an enormous amount of connections can be woven through one single subject. In a couple of months, I integrated Egyptian art, history, literature, and culture. I grasped so much information as a ten-year- old that I still remember my goddess Ma’at, dressed in orange, who stood for my most crucial beliefs, for she was the goddess of truth, justice, law, and morality. Over the years, this interconnected approach would become the standard, not the exception.
In my senior year, I took a class called Religion & Science. I am a very STEM-focused person, so in entering this class, I scoffed at the syllabus, nearly certain that there was no relation between religion and science. I had only experienced the scope of science through a strictly empirical lens. “Science was truth,” I thought, “The only way to prove truth was through the established laws of science.” I was challenged by the ideas of free will, the existence of God, the existence and reliability of truth, quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity, our consciousness, morality, and what it means to be alive in our universe. I couldn’t get enough. I was given the opportunity to explore the essence of what makes human beings,human beings. We have the ability to learn, to think, to wonder, to theorize, and to postulate. We are innately curious about the world and why it is the way it is. Westtown has acted as a haven for us all, where our curiosity is encouraged and valued by teachers and other students alike.
When I think back at all the experiences I’ve had and memories I’ve made at Westtown, connections are the first thing that come to mind. Boy, am I grateful to have attended and been nurtured by a community that has encouraged my unrelenting curiosity about the universe and has helped me to better understand all of the quirky, raw, hilarious, and inspiring connections that come with it.