Breakfast for the mind

Breakfast for the mind

“You pot-polishing, knuckle-walking, genetic-bottlenecking vegeculture!”  Nobody told me that taking Dr. Smith’s Introduction to Archaeology Class would arm me with an arsenal of epithets, as well as a beginner’s foundation of knowledge about the world’s ancient civilizations.  Yet it has– ANTH 201, satisfying the elusive GER 4B requirement, has proven to be both an entertaining and informative opportunity as I bring my final semester at William & Mary to a close.
As I look back on my education at William & Mary, I wonder what my courseload would have looked like if it weren’t for the College’s General Education Requirements (GERs) that provide the framework for a solid liberal arts training.  In part, it’s impossible to imagine my undergraduate education without a smattering of English here, and some Geology there, but I can certainly guess: it’d be one long list of courses in Psychology (my major).  Not only would I have long since tired of such an intensely single-minded curriculum, but I would be completely missing out on enriching my background in math, music, and more.  Perhaps I’d resemble the Homo floresiensis, the small-brained “Hobbit man” that roamed the earth 20,000 years ago (pictured to the right).
No, I rather enjoy the opportunities I’ve had to take courses outside of my major.  To me, Introduction to Archaeology, at 9:30am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, is an intellectual “breakfast” of sorts.  I show up, coffee in hand (Wawa, of course), and learn about a new and novel topic in a way that stretches my brain and gets me thinking outside of the box.  And as a self-styled outside-of-the-box-kinda-thinker, I really value the alternative perspective anthropology and archaeology provide.
Does this come easily, though?  Absolutely not.  Unlike a bowl of Cheerios in the morning, Introduction to Archaeology is tough.  As I page through my notes as I write this article, I have a hard time keeping Chaco Canyon, the Shanidar Cave, and the Vindolanda Garrison straight.  I didn’t take ANTH 201 for an easy time, though, and I am looking forward to preparing for Tuesday’s exam (well, as much as any student can look forward to studying).  It’s this sort of challenge that helps keep classes fun, even when I’ve long since completed my major.  (The difficulty of Dr. Cole’s Symbolic Logic class might have been another story, though– but that’s another story for another day!)
Four years of school can be a long time to keep yourself engaged intellectually.  With the right mix of people, opportunities, and courses like ANTH 201, though, it can be a lot easier than you think!  Senior I may be, but knuckle-walker I am not.

10 reasons it's good to get back to William & Mary after Winter Break

It’s always nice being at home or on vacation over Winter Break, but it’s a good thing the Spring semester is starting up in just a few days. Here’s why.

You’re wondering if anyone will notice your new haircut.
Nobody will give you a hard time for “being up until midnight again.”
Summer break is always much more rewarding after you’ve earned it.
You won’t have to wash dishes again until May.
The daily crossword is no intellectual substitute for a 16-credit courseload.
You might live near a Wawa, but you probably don’t live near our Wawa.
Poking someone in real life is a lot more meaningful than poking them on Facebook.
You’ll see the sisters or brothers you chose, not the ones you were born with.
Sinfonicron. This year’s show: The Secret Garden.
There’s nothing quite like seeing Lake Matoaka in the snow.

What are your top reasons?

Controlled Chaos

The previous week, according to many, was Homecoming Weekend.  Unfortunately for me, though, it was just one more week of “Graduate School Applications Semester.”  See, as a graduating senior, William & Mary has done an excellent job of preparing me for the future, but at around this point the baton is handed back to me and the rest of my class, the Class of 2009.  It’s time for us to make the next step happen.
“Come on, Andy, it’s time to get on top of those psychology applications,” the statues of Botetourt and Blair whisper to me as I walk across campus.  ”Make us proud.”
I’ve done my best to heed their call: requesting transcripts be sent here and there, drafting copy after copy of a professional statement, and so forth.  Of course, the academic world does not build in enough time for the present, much less the future, and classes go on– it took me a whole day, for instance, to find out the final score of our Homecoming football game because I spent the entire duration of the game in McGlothlin-Street Hall’s computer lab, working on a programming assignment with my partner.
Hard work, though, as any William & Mary student can attest, makes the enjoyable moments even more rewarding.  Just the night before, the William & Mary Wind Symphony, my favorite music ensemble on campus, performed its annual Homecoming and Alumni Concert.  Musicians of all classes, ranging from 2008 to 1960, were in attendance to share their experiences as students, make new friends, and unite musically to produce one terrific sound.  When it came time to play the Alma Mater at the end of the performance, there was no doubt as to what the college experience at William & Mary meant to everyone involved, whether in the audience or on stage.
So as the senior class frets over what to make of the upcoming months, it’s the little things that are keeping everyone going.  One of my top moments of the weekend, again music-related, was watching my good buddy Jack perform a bass trombone solo with the Wham Bam Big Band as part of Swem Library’s “Ringing Far and Near: Student Music and Song” event.  I was lucky enough to be able to record the performance, which I’m proud to share with you here:

Summertime from Andy DeSoto on Vimeo

Seeking Time Travel

Argh!  If you’re an extraterrestrial, deity-empowered iconoclast, or
human being from the year 3000 CE reading this blog article, please do
what you can to whisk me away to this Sunday!  I’ll be the first to
admit I absolutely loathe the packing and moving process.  Don’t get me
wrong: I love spending time at home, and I adore being on campus.  But
the in between time?  Not so hot.
The shopping nightmare
My least favorite part about the whole experience might be the
shopping that goes on beforehand to make sure I’ve got everything I
need for a successful year.  Just today I’ve browsed through Target,
Costco, Linens & Things, and more, just keeping an eye out for
necessities I may have missed on the way.
Of course, going about this in such a helter-skelter fashion is
unhealthy for both the psyche and the pocketbook, as inconveniences of
time and finances abound.  (“Ooh, look, a shiny mirror!”  ”Wait, the
trash cans were on the other end of the store.”  ”Where did my basket go?”  I’m sure you know the drill.)
Everything’s complicated when you’re shopping for school.  Even the
most basic toiletry purchase becomes an exercise in decision-making;
after all, who knows the difference between Extra Whitening, Shine
& Polish, and Baking Soda Fresh toothpastes, anyway?  Fortunately,
in order to streamline this process, I’ve devised a nifty little trick:
only purchasing items of a certain color in order to keep
indecisiveness minimal.
Don’t believe me?  Here’s photographic evidence:

The packing monstrosity
The struggle doesn’t end here, though, as the real challenge is
integrating the new and the old into a car that’s half as large as you
recalled while you were shopping for that new rug.  If you haven’t
arrived on campus, put your trash bags next to the door, just in case
you almost forgot them like I did.
is where the lists come into play.  My lists, lists from online, lists
from friends, lists from the family, everyone’s got a list of stuff to
bring down.
Of course, the whole problem of making lists is that the stuff you
were going to forget in the first place never makes it on the list to
begin with, so as far as I’m concerned, useless lists of paper serve as
a psychological assurance at best.  (Even so, I’ll take what I can get.)
The big picture
Fortunately, though, every once in a while I’m able to see
everything in perspective and see the move-in process as the exciting
challenge it is.  After all, what do you really need to function on a
college campus?

your student ID card
a pen

Not so bad, right?  If those are the necessities, everything else I’ve been planning is bound to be icing on the cake.
On second thought, galactic explorer, don’t teleport me to the 24th.
 I think I can handle it on my own, assuming I stop blogging and start

William & Mary & Words

You might be familiar with Wordle from a recent article in the Washington Post, but if you’re not, you’re missing out!  It’s a pretty fantastic tool for creating a visual representation of a block of text.
The Post used this nifty service to dissect the political blogs of
John McCain and Barack Obama, but here I’m putting it to a less
controversial use: illustrating the History & Traditions page from our beautiful newly-designed website.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what William & Mary is all about.

Memories of a Hundred Spires

If you had tried to get a hold of me at about this time last year,
you would have caught me in the midst of an enormous two week long
nap.  Why?  It took that long for me to recover from my whirlwind trip
to Prague, Czech Republic with the Study Abroad program at William
& Mary.
I can probably say, without too much hesitation, that my experiences
in the Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria last summer made for just
about the best vacation I’ve ever had, and one of the most enriching
learning experiences I’ve enjoyed, to boot.
As to not risk sounding like one of the Reves Center promotional
pamphlets, let me be a bit more personal: I’m so glad I traveled
overseas.  At first, the myriad of concerns I harbored almost held me
back entirely: Was the trip worth the expensive plane tickets?  Would I
be okay in the city knowing virtually zero Czech?  Would I enjoy the
company of great new friends or be forced to resort to wandering around
the beautiful city alone?
Fortunately, my fears all but vanished as I hopped aboard an
early-morning plane to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport late May.  The
following six weeks were a bit of a learning experience, to say the
least, but an overwhelmingly positive one.
More about this later.  Couldn’t help but mention it as I was thinking about it, as I often do.  Many times, I wish I was back.
Until then, though, as they say in the Czech Republic: Na zdraví!

I'd Do Anything for Wawa Coffee

Last year, I lived extremely close to Wawa,
the miracle wondermart so many of us students come to know and love,
and I’m not embarassed to admit I got hooked on daily morning coffee
from this fine establishment (Kona, two Sweet’N Lows, and Irish Cream
creamer, if you were curious).
Since I’ve been back at home over break, I’ve been searching nonstop
for a replacement coffee since Wawa is no longer within convenient
walking (or driving, even) distance, but haven’t met much luck; my last
attempt at finding an acceptable substitute resulted in a super-strong
pot of Dunkin Donuts brand coffee that kept me up for four straight
days– pesky over break, potentially disasterous with classes in
So there I was, relaxing on a warm Sunday afternoon, when my family
announced it was headed down to the Woodbridge Ikea to do some shopping
for basement renovations.  That’s when the lightbulb struck– are there
Wawas in Woodbridge?  A few quick searches on Google Maps hit paydirt:
a franchise location just a few quick minutes away from Ikea and the
Mills!  Maybe they’d be able to pick me up some of the ground coffee I
had passed day after day on my way to the brewed stuff!
I hastily scribbled some directions and instructions for the family.  Kona best.  Original, Dark, Columbian good.  Kenya AA so-so.  Avoid Hazelnut.  I
wasn’t sure the Woodbridge Wawa would even have ground coffee, but it
was worth taking a look.  Anything to get some of that coffee into my
I got a cell phone call a few minutes ago that sure enough, the
mission had been met with success.  As soon as my trusty family members
get back, I’m brewing up a pot, even if it keeps me up all night.  I
haven’t yet decided how I should thank them for their efforts, but I’m
sure something will come to me.  (In retrospect, I should have
suggested they pick up the delicious F’Real Shakes also available at
Wawa; that would have been a reward in itself.)
So it sounds like my Wawa coffee dependency will be successfully
sustained over the continuing summer months.  The only bad news: I’m
close to Wawa again during the 2008-2009 academic year, so who knows
how much more this desperate addiction will grow before I’m graduated!

Are We There Yet?

Back when I was in high school, I thought I was lucking out if the
school year ended at the beginning of June.  How bizarre it feels,
then, that we’re barely halfway through the month and it’s already time
to start thinking about heading back to campus this Fall!  I don’t know
what it is about summers– depending on how you look at them, 90 days
or so can either be a looooong time or not enough time in the world.
Whenever I’m home in Fairfax, Virginia on breaks, I always find
myself in a bit of stasis.  I love spending time with my family and
enjoy taking a rest from daily classes, so I’m perfectly happy hanging
out here.  At the same time, though, I love William & Mary and
campus life, too, so I’m perfectly content to be in Williamsburg. 
Somehow, the two lifes so many of us college students lead– at home,
and at school– balance out just so for me that I’d be equally happy
packing up and heading back to college tomorrow, or two years from
now.  I can’t help but wonder if anyone else ever feels similarly.
But I am looking forward to getting back to school, though.  Already
I have a bevy of fantastic opportunities and experiences on my plate
for the next semester: getting to work and play with the Wind Symphony, doing independent honors research in the Psychology Department,
and just seeing all the familiar faces that have made my W&M
experience thus far great.  Of course, there’s a lot more work that
needs to be done before I’m ready to head back, but… I think I’ll
tackle that in a few weeks.  Or months.  ‘Cause I have all that time,