After a long and relaxing winter break spent swimming by the beaches of my native Florida, I returned to campus a few days early to take a lifeguard certification course. And so about a week ago, early in the morning, I found myself bundled up in just about every shirt I own and ready to trek over to Blodgett Pool. As the wind licked at my arms and the frost nipped at my heels, I walked and walked and discovered that the pool must actually be located on the Connecticut side of the state line.
I also discovered that the time has come for me to buy some long-sleeve shirts. Regardless of how many are worn, t-shirts are simply not quite warm enough for the winter.
Mildly frostbitten, I finally arrived at the pool and changed into my bathing suit. The other lifeguard trainees and I were greeted by our instructor, who cut right to the chase. He said the first thing we’ll practice is our jumps. After that, we’ll do rescues, and then underwater knife fighting. He mentioned the last bit is not Red Cross material, but that it can be just as important, depending on the situation.
I glanced around at the other students, all of us not yet wet behind the ears, and they were looking around too, waiting for someone to laugh first. No one did. Our instructor, we figured out, was completely serious. And although he declined to be more specific on the details of underwater knife fighting, he assured us that such skills come in handy unexpectedly. He also assured us that knife practice would be useful fending off sharks and that he has relied on knives many times during his swims and tours of duty.
We never did learn to knife fight underwater. Next Wintersession, I am told.
Now you may be wondering what the point of this lengthy introduction could possibly be. After all, I have no idea when in my suburban lifetime I will ever need to know how to fight with a knife underwater. But then it dawned on me that I took a class last year on presidential elections, and there is a greater chance of me knife fighting in the Atlantic than running a presidential campaign. (I know this, you see, because I took a statistics course.)
I took the elections class because I could; I wanted to learn more about presidential politics and had the opportunity to do so. I took a cooking course, too, despite the fact that the administration did not allow me to count it toward my economics concentration. The amount of time it takes to cook an egg, I was told, did not affect my fundamental understanding of supply and demand. Nevertheless, my Freshman Seminar on U.S. elections and the Science of Cooking were two of the most rewarding classes I have taken.
This week, classes start up again, and there are plenty of required courses that need to be taken between now and graduation. We all have our concentrations and secondary fields and citations to take care of. But there are also those coveted free slots, those elective opportunities to take classes on neo-Babylonian inscriptions or Buddhism in Japan or the history of rap or just about anything else. For most of us, knowledge about Babylon has little post-college application or career relevance. Yet the classes that promise nothing more than an interesting semester usually turn out to be the best ones. When else will you have the opportunity to learn about electronic dance music in an academic setting?
Sure, I spent some of my winter break learning how to lifeguard. My fellow students and I learned how to pull victims out of the water, how to perform CPR, and how to prevent fires in the pool. Alas, we never made it to the knife fighting part of the curriculum. Next year, though, when the time comes to sign up for Wintersession activities, the first one I’ll look for is underwater knife fighting. Because if not then, when?
Unfortunately, I can’t learn about ancient Babylon this semester. I have some concentration requirements to take care of.
Jacob R. Drucker ‘15, a Crimson editorial writer, is an economics concentrator in Mather House.