When I reflect on my four years at Temple University, I think of long days and nights spent holed-up in Paley Library, mesmerized with the words on a page, enticed by the stench of yellow-weathered books with curling edges, beckoning like a finger.
Up in the stacks of Paley Library, you don’t just smell books. You smell stale paper twice your age, stories born decades and centuries before, decaying in a fluorescent-lit crypt. The scent rises from open pages like dust from all the previous fingers that sifted through words, searching for a nugget of knowledge. Shelf after endless shelf rises over your head, decorating the narrow aisle with miscellaneous colored canvass rectangles. You could suffocate in a place like this. You could get lost in a place like this. You could forget what’s outside in a place like this.
That’s precisely the point.
The rank, stuffy smell of decay blankets you from all other thoughts so that you’re completely submerged in this world of words and ideas. Just as reading a book from your childhood brings back a sense of home, reading in the library brings back focus and purpose. Shut off from the world, stuffed in a windowless book box, your mind is free to wander, released from all distraction.
You don’t think of your bank account in a place like this. You don’t think of paying rent in a place like this. You don’t stress about finding a job or figuring out your life in a place like this.
A place like the old, stuffy, architecturally outdated Paley Library is the reason for higher education. The reason is not to simply get a job, launch a career or build a network for the future – at least that’s not my reason. The reason for higher education is to challenge your own perspective, to understand that the world is complex and to consider a spectrum of viewpoints. The purpose is to look up from a book, emerge from a library, step off a campus and fuse the world of ideas with the world of reality.
Life is as deceiving as the smell of dying books. While spines wither and words grow faint, ideas within them strengthen, fostered inside millions of minds, constantly reinventing themselves. Education allows people to do the same. Education allows us to be reborn.
Class of 2013