Written by Great Books on Monday, February 3, 2020
"I learned how to be a better public speaker, how to better articulate my own thoughts in an effective way, and generally, how to be more comfortable sharing my own opinions while still valuing others’ views." —Sebastian from D.C.
For Sebastian of Washington, D.C., Great Books is a place where his creativity flourishes. In fact, the talented 15-year-old was just given a Silver Key Award in the 2020 DC Metro Scholastic Writing Awards competition. He won the award for his short story, The No. 3 Bus, which he wrote during Great Books Writer’s Workshop at Amherst College last summer.
“Sebastian only worked on it at Amherst," said his proud father, Richard, "This is a testament to the quality of teaching and support at Great Books. He’s motivated to keep working on his writing!"
Sebastian’s creativity knows no bounds. This 9th grader loves reading, writing, and the visual and performing arts. He is active in theater, taking part in two professional shows— Oliver! and Matilda: The Musical, in addition to shows at his school and in theater training programs. He also takes voice lessons, piano lessons, sings in his school’s a cappella group, and squeezes in several dance classes each week.
As a three-year camper, he started in the Intermediate Program with students in Grades 6 – 8 from around the world. Sebastian is now in the Senior Program for students in rising grades 9 – 12. This transition gives him a unique perspective as a camper. He has also attended both the traditional literary program focused on reading, discussion, and critical thinking and the week-long Writer’s Workshop program that is aimed at awakening creativity and teaching nuanced craft techniques.
"A life lesson that I took away from attending Great Books is the courage to be who you want to be."
This summer, Sebastian is returning for two weeks to participate in both reading and writing programs. In this Student Spotlight, Sebastian shares his love of Great Books, its role in helping him become a more articulate speaker, and the joy of meeting people who have become his forever friends.
What is your favorite part of Great Books?
Do I have to choose? I really do love every aspect of it. If I had to choose which of the many parts is my “favorite,” I think it’s what keeps me coming back year after year: the community that Great Books builds, and not just between campers. There are Program Assistants (PAs) and professors who come back year after year, so really not only coming back to friends, but almost to another family. I remain in touch with so many people from Great Books during the school year because of the friendships that I make at Amherst.
What life lessons did you take away from attending Great Books Summer Program?
A life lesson that I took away from attending Great Books is the courage to be who you want to be. Every summer at Amherst we have our orientation, and every year we are reminded of what is most important at Great Books: here at Great Books you have the opportunity to be someone completely different from who you are at home, or during school or during whatever else it is you do. And maybe—if you want—you can bring a little bit of that someone home with you when camp is over and summer ends: openness to change and the ability to show a different side of you truly rounds you out as a person. I'm forever grateful to Great Books for giving me the opportunity to become, well, more myself.
What skills did you learn at Great Books?
I learned how to be a better public speaker, how to better articulate my own thoughts in an effective way, and generally, how to be more comfortable sharing my own opinions while still valuing others’ views.
"No one is afraid to throw themselves into the work, or read poetry at Morning Meeting, or even call themselves a “nerd” and accept it proudly and joyfully....We spend entire days for a minimum of a week reading (or writing) and then talking about it and getting into heated conversations about the true meanings, or connotations, or even the very syntax of how something is structured. "
What surprised you about Great Books?
I think what really surprised me the most was that everyone here loves it. No one is afraid to throw themselves into the work, or read poetry at Morning Meeting, or even call themselves a “nerd” and accept it proudly and joyfully. I mean, we’re a nerd camp! Literally! My friends and I love to call GBSP “nerd camp” because that’s who and what we are! We spend entire days for a minimum of a week reading (or writing) and then talking about it and getting into heated conversations about the true meanings, or connotations, or even the very syntax of how something is structured.
What literature elective did you take part in and what did you take away from it?
Over my time I have tried a lot of different electives, but one I truly enjoyed was on the classic literature of other cultures around the world. What I learned was that we as “Westerners” focus so much on what is “classic” to the West, and while the work done here is incredible, and rich, and varied, it’s not all that there is out there and it would be shameful not to recognize true works of art in other cultures for what they are: classics of their own.
Sebastian's advice for future and current students:
- Step out of your comfort zone! I was writing down all this separate specific advice before I realized that it really all fell under this one umbrella. Put yourself out there. Ask questions. Talk to your PAs. Make new friends. Do different things for free time. Take electives that are interesting to you even if your friends aren’t doing them or if they are not something you would “usually” do. Perform at Open Mic. Sword fight during Theatre Games. See how much you can experience and pull out of your time at Great Books!
- Sleep! I know, you’re at a sleep-away camp with your friends, and while it may be tempting to stay up late and rebel, don’t do it. You need all the brain power you can get to fully participate in the day because—Wow!—a day at GBSP is packed.
"What keeps me coming back year after year: the community that Great Books builds, and not just between campers. There are Program Assistants (PAs) and professors who come back year after year, so really not only coming back to friends, but almost to another family."
What are some of your favorite Great Books’ memories?
I remember playing Ring of Fire for the first time (sword fighting in a ring with a foam sword) and failing miserably, but having so much fun. I love the weekly dances; for a nerd camp, we really throw quite a party. I also remember coming in my first year, knowing nobody, but then meeting my pod and my PA and realizing that it would all be okay.
What other academic or literary awards have you received?
Some academic honors I have received include: State Champion for the You Be the Chemist competition, team win in the local Battle of the Books competition, Summa Cum Laude & Perfect Score for the 2018 & 2019 National Latin Exams, and 1st Place in my school’s Science Fair.
Are you returning to Great Books?
I am already registered to return next summer to the Amherst campus for both reading and writing. I am really keen to try one of the international campuses in the future! I hope to attend for as long as I can!
"I also remember coming in my first year, knowing nobody, but then meeting my pod and my PA and realizing that it would all be okay."
What is your favorite book and why?
It’s hard to choose a favorite among the more grown-up books I’ve read, but a childhood favorite that is still close to my heart is The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. I loved the thrilling magic of the tornado that carried Dorothy to Oz, and the beautiful, yet frightening world she found there. As a young child, I didn’t fully appreciate the ending, but now that I’m at least a little bit older, when Dorothy realizes that all she needed and longed for could be found right where she is at home is melancholy, but incredibly touching at the same time. It gives us hope that all we need to change our lives is already within us.