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Carol QuillenIn these pages, you will read the “how I got here” stories of several Davidson students. We learn where they come from, the experiences that shaped their lives before arriving on campus and what they hope to discover here.

My own (far less interesting) journey to Davidson began on the Jersey shore, in a house filled with all manner of books. During my childhood summers there, books became my closest friends. Mysteries, classics, beach novels, biographies, histories of the United States. Where there were words, I read them.

When I am confused by an experience, or when my reaction is all out of proportion to the situation at hand, I read. Words written by others offer two complementary gifts: They show us how people (real or imagined) different from us experience the world, and they give us new ways of understanding and representing our own experience.

Not everything you learn about yourself from books is pleasant. If you’re lucky enough to have traveled, Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place will point out what your relaxation can cost others. But knowledge is by definition liberating. Learning, even when painful, is worth it.

Words written by others invite empathy. They also create common ground across the centuries and build unexpected connections, networks and pathways between people whose personal circumstances were or are radically different. Augustine was a bishop who lived 1,700 years ago in Roman North Africa. Yet his description of inner conflict seemed exactly to capture my own.

The connections, networks and bridges created through reading build our capacity to find common ground amidst our differences. But reading alone is not enough. To lead in the starkly polarized global landscape in which we now live, our students need repeated, often uncomfortable encounters with people whose convictions, background and views differ from their own.

By bringing together students with different life stories and having them take classes together, we create an atmosphere that promotes the unfettered, rigorous inquiry upon which this college rests. With more viewpoints and experiences in the room, students learn to frame clearer, more fruitful questions. Those questions enable our community to produce more accurate knowledge. Recruiting a diverse community is an educational imperative for an institution committed to cultivating humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service.

Throughout my life, from when I could first read to my years as a history professor, I have reveled in the unexpected connections one could make simply by reading widely and talking about it. On our campus, we see the extraordinary insights that arise when talented, diverse students, faculty and staff get to do this every day.

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About Author

Carol Quillen

Davidson College President Carol Quillen has engaged the college community in reimagining the liberal arts experience within the changing landscape of higher education and an increasingly interconnected world. Quillen became the 18th president of Davidson College on Aug. 1, 2011.

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