Asking Questions Without Answers
Issue   |   Thu, 09/03/2015 - 16:53

It is common knowledge that almost every student, staff member and faculty member at Amherst College has, at one time or another, wondered why our campus center is yellow. Most people, through a process of reason, usually conclude that Keefe is yellow because it is meant to stand out, to be distinct from every other building on campus. Others, however, tend to attribute Keefe’s unseemly color to some as-yet unproven architectural blunder.

No matter the theory, the real answer to this question continues to elude everyone who asks it. This might be because finding it would require a deep exploration of the college’s historical archives, a task that is simply too cumbersome for any interested party to undertake. Alternatively, it may be because the answer is simply lost to us forever. Whatever the case may be, allow me to say that it is not significant. At this point, the reader should know that I myself have not at any time rigorously pursued the answer. The basic understanding that our campus center looks out of place on campus follows from the process of personal inquisition; I believe this process is much more valuable to us than any answer that we can find. If ever we chose to change the color and/or appearance of Keefe, I seriously doubt that we would give very much thought to how it came to be this way in the first place. And so, in this case, it seems that the answer to the question turns out to be much less important than the actual process of asking the question itself, which doubly acts as a spur into action and a gateway to unexpected knowledge.

I think the same thing can be said many of the scenarios that first-year students and the rest of us will undoubtedly face this coming year. The road ahead is filled with many unknowns that will inspire unanswerable questions. We will ask ourselves impossible ones — like “Why am I here?” “Who am I?” “What should I major in?” — that will no doubt haunt us for much of the year. However, let them not deter us, but rather motivate us all the more to ask them, whether they be questions about ourselves or questions about others. And even though their answers will almost certainly elude us in the end, they are worth contemplating, because sometimes simply asking a question can lead to a process of self-discovery and personal awareness that is completely unrelated to the original question asked. Unfortunately, such a process is often inherently painful and unpleasant, so it might seem that such an undertaking is just not worth it.

Nevertheless, as the Nigerian poet Tai Solarin once wrote, “I am not cursing you; I am wishing you what I wish myself every year. I therefore [say], may you have a hard time this year, may there be plenty of troubles for you this year! If you are not so sure what you should say back, why not just say, ‘Same to you’? I ask for no more.” On this note, I wish the class of 2019 and the rest of us many difficult questions this year, and I hope we will be able to find the strength to rise up to them even without hope of ever getting answers.

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