Beyond the Classroom

by Danielle Vanaman '06

A chilly wind blows through the trees, stirring up a flurry of colorful autumn leaves. The hike up the steep, rocky pathway has left us winded, and our small group of students pauses to gaze down at the peaceful monastery below. We part ways, and Joelle sketches a nearby statue while Luke captures God’s creation through photography. Morgan wanders off to sing hymns of praise to the Lord, and I pause for a moment to silently contemplate everything that God has done in my life this semester.

Although we are vaguely aware of the fact that back on campus thousands of students are franticly studying and taking tests as they struggle through the chaos and stress of finals week, the cares of that life seem worlds away. It may not be long until we return to that world to finish out the semester, but for now we focus on the present and soak up the serenity that surrounds us.

Instead of taking a traditional two-hour comprehensive final, my Honors World Literature class was given the opportunity to spend a day at Saint Andrew’s Abbey, a Roman Catholic Benedictine Monastery. After completing an extensive unit on Dante’s Divine Comedy, we decided that a chance to experience the lifestyle and religion of Dante’s era firsthand would be far more beneficial than a written essay or test. With the support of our professor, Diana Glyer, Ph.D., we embarked on a journey that would take hands-on learning to a whole new level.

“It was exciting to have an opportunity like that during finals week,” said Joelle Diepenbrock ’06. “Not only was it a chance to experience something you couldn’t learn in a classroom, but it was also a chance to get away from all of the stress and encounter a different kind of enrichment.”

Morgan Altizer ’07 expressed similar enthusiasm about the day. “Dr. Glyer taught us about Dante, and Dante taught us about life,” Altizer said. “In our final, we weren’t just tested with words on a page, we were given a life experience that we will be able to draw from for the rest of our days.”

We arrived at 7:30 a.m. to attend the early-morning prayer service with the incessant sounds of busy college life still ringing in our ears, and the grand silence was a welcome change. Although the silence was broken after breakfast, the spirit of peaceful contemplation remained throughout the day. My four classmates and I spent our time at the monastery attending worship services, exploring the grounds, and conversing with the monks while gradually gaining a better understanding of a rhythm of life that has become all but extinct in modern society.

As we left the final service at 10 p.m. that night, we were approached by Father Eleutherius Winace, a monk who had blessed us earlier in the day with his wisdom and lively stories. “Do you know how to keep your mind active for all the years of your life?” he said. “I will tell you. I am 94 years old, and I read every single night. Read, study, learn, and your mind will never grow old.” With these words echoing through our heads, we departed to finish finals week at APU and complete just one of the many upcoming chapters in the continuing story of our education.