Abigail Storch, Class of 2016

It is a chilly Monday morning in November, and fourteen Agora Fellows are seated in round-table formation under the vaulted ceiling. We are discussing Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1970 Nobel lecture, a speech on the unique capabilities of art and literature to speak truth. One sentence jumps off the page at me, demanding my attention. They both hold the key to a miracle: to overcome man’s ruinous habit of learning only from his own experience, so that the experience of others passes him by without profit. I feel as if I’ve discovered something crucial to any discussion of politics, something crucial to my understanding of the role of the arts in the political life. Art and literature allow us a breadth of experience and understanding, which in turn enlarges our capacity for compassion. This strikes me as urgently important to the conversation, and so I speak.

One snowy February morning, I am sitting in the bright, spacious dining room of the Radnor Hotel. Two seats away from me, Dara Horn, a prize-winning novelist and professor, jokes nonchalantly about her job, her education, her kids. I ask her about the writing process, and how she manages to be a prolific author, decorated scholar, and wife and mother. “Honestly, I’m able to write so much because in all my writing, I’m actually procrastinating and avoiding another project,” she says. “My academic projects are a nice break from writing fiction, and when I’m tired of writing academic prose, I enjoy working on novels.” Later, I apply her advice to my own writing, and it works remarkably well; varying my writing style and interspersing my academic work with creative writing allows me to approach each project with a freshness I never expected.

It is April, and over a hundred are gathered in the Warner Library Atrium for the final lecture in the 2014-15 series, Dis(enchanted): Culture in the Modern Age. I am rapt as Jane Golden recounts her journey from painting murals on the cement of San Francisco to becoming the director of Philadelphia Mural Arts. Golden speaks with a lovely balance of humility and confidence, eloquence and passion. She doesn’t know it, but her story is one I won’t soon forget, for she is the sort of woman I aspire to be: brave, driven, and inspired.

In May, I will become an alumna of the Agora Fellowship. During the past three years, I have participated in two academic conferences, one film screening, and approximately twenty public lectures. I have explored the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Thomas Jefferson through the Agora reading group, edited countless undergraduate essays, and gained invaluable editorial experience through Adorans, the undergraduate academic journal of the Agora Institute. My involvement in the Agora Institute has complemented and enhanced my undergraduate education in a myriad of ways, and the value of what I’ve learned as an Agora Fellow cannot be overstated.

During my tenure as an Agora Fellow, I have been encouraged – exhorted – to work hard, to aim high, and to hone my talents and abilities for the life of my community, society, and the world. I count this a blessing and a gift, one for which I am extraordinarily grateful.

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