Sophia Maltese’s Senior Column: A scrapbook of quotes from my undergraduate English courses

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Sophia Maltese, Editor-in-Chief

What is your quest?

My British Literature professor posed this question to our class during my freshman year. It felt like a taunt. Most of the students were there to fulfill a requirement, not consider their nascent role on our blue marble.

“Blue marble.” I stole that. It’s a line from Simon Armitage, my favorite poet I studied in undergrad. His words read like a scrapbook of moments — each one intimate and strikingly unique.  

After our professor asked that question, I shifted in my desk, staring at the blank paper before me. I considered my “quest” until that point to be a scrapbook of moments. Bits of poetry, algebra, trips to the grocery store and whatever else, composed who I was. For me, “quest” was synonymous with “journey” rather than defined as some lofty “quest” I aspired to achieve.

Plus, I felt so coincidental. I was not sure I could have a quest, and even if I did have one, I was not sure that it would be worth mentioning.

Or at least that was something that I told myself, not something that I believed. Actually, considering my “quest” was a fun glimmer of hope roiling the cold, still waters of reality.

“Do I dare disturb the universe?” – “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” T.S. Eliot.

What if I was made for something? What if there was a grand adventure waiting for me and I could be like the dozens of novel protagonists I admired?

“And out of the void, slowly but slowly it / came: the pulsing starfish of a child’s hand, swimming / and swimming and coming to settle on my upturned / palm.” – “I will be there to love and comfort you,” Simon Armitage.

Time to answer the question was running out. I take my classroom duties seriously; I needed to participate. I needed to come up with a response to our professor’s ridiculous supposition that we all had a quest and that we knew what that quest was.

So I wrote an upsettingly general answer: truth. My quest was to find truth. Sure, good enough.

Looking back, it’s funny how accurate my answer came to be.

At the time, I was just getting involved with The Carroll News and journalism. I knew squat about politics and bluffed my way through conversations about current events. Yet, I signed up for journalism courses and kept writing. It was like I was driving a car with low fuel and no destination in sight.

Soon, I was attending mayoral debates, reading newspapers regularly and covering campus news. I became obsessed with the power and necessity of truth, and my sense of justice skyrocketed. Though we are a small paper with a small staff, our words mattered in the little moments when people read them, when students pointed to their name in print or I saw a copy of the paper taped to an office door. I felt a deep urge to push The Carroll News to be the best it could be while I was there, even if my time was fleeting.

“Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright / Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” “Do not Go Gentle into that Good Night,” Dylan Thomas.

I imagined myself on a quest for truth, not just truth in reporting, but truth in human nature. I used my reporter’s toolkit to go into the world and build a shack from the scraps of truth I found. I learned that it’s okay — not great, but okay — to be wrong if you make sure to correct it, that productive discussion is only productive if you listen and that the interviewing rule of 20% talking and 80% listening is a pretty good policy in all situations. Our deadlines taught me time management. Our editors showed me what dedication looks like. Our reporting demonstrated that people will stand up for what they believe in even when it’s hard.

“You are gone into what is not fear or joy, but a whirling of sunlight and water and air full of shining dust that takes you, a dream that is not of you but will let you into itself if you love enough and will not, will never let you go.” – “Where You Go When She Sleeps,” T.R. Hummer.  

Though I was ignorant and nervous, the quest my freshman self scribbled down held true. My quest has been and will always be to find truth, whether that truth be about myself or the world. Thankfully, John Carroll and The Carroll News forced me into my quest, and I am so grateful for the flicker of wisdom I gained in these four years.

“There was a horrible pause as we sat there wondering / whether or not to applaud, then the curtains closed.” – “Brief Encounter,” Simon Armitage.