This blog post deals specifically with one evening and a small piece of knowledge that I became aware of. Regardless, it was an important evening for me because it made me very pensive for the following months, and even now as I reflect on the summer as a whole it has stayed with me.
The day I returned from Sicily was a holiday in Florence – the feast day of San Giovanni, or John the Baptist – and therefore the Archive was closed. The Florentines greatly enjoy celebrating their feast days in a display of magnificence: parades in Renaissance attire and a grand display of fireworks in the evening. I met Mimi and Ashley on the opposite side of the Arno for an aperitivo (the Italian equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet) before the fireworks started, and while we waited for the sky to darken and the show to begin, we talked about how the internship was going and what our plans were for the future.
Working with Mimi was incredibly eye opening. She had studied British Literature as an undergraduate at Oxford and was pursuing research concerning John Milton’s journey to Italy as a project for her graduate work at Cambridge. Ashley had come to the realm of scholarship in a very interesting way, first working as a high school history teacher for ten years before deciding to go for a doctorate at the University of South Florida; and now she was working on research concerning Anna Maria Lusia de’ Medici. Still an undergraduate, I was eager to hear about their respective career paths, and I was intrigued when they both agreed that taking time off before graduate school was one of the best decisions they had made. Mimi had done her gap year at Princeton, and Ashley had gotten much work experience under her belt before pursuing her Ph.D. She cautioned us against thinking that graduate school was the same type of education we were used to: it was harder, not only in terms of content but in terms of self-endurance, self-doubt, and self-awareness.
Ashley’s sentiments were reinforced by conversations I had with multiple scholars at the Archive throughout the summer: graduate school was intensive for the simple reason of weeding out the students who were not willing to go the extra mile; it was a shock to no longer be the brightest student in the room or to not understand the course work as well as the other students; and it was terrifying and lonely to receive less guidance and positive feedback from professors. Over and over I was told that this information was relayed to me not to scare me away from this path, but because I needed to be absolutely sure it was the path I wanted to take – that it was a path I was capable of withstanding. Well, this hit home, and I had a very difficult time coming to terms with it throughout the summer, and even now.
I am forever the student who works industriously. From an early age teachers and fellow students discouraged me from pursuing academics: dyslexia made me ‘slow and stupid’ and I was not going to ‘make it.’ Because of this, I never saw myself as one of the brightest students in the room, and so I knew that when I got to graduate school, coming to terms with that would not be an issue. What did scare me, however, was the thought of professors not offering help, guidance, and feedback. The mentors I have had throughout my academic career created such a strong support system for me, one that only made me want to strive further, to be more passionate, and to try for opportunities I thought were out of my reach – the Salisbury being one of them. The prospect of losing that type of support was nerve-racking and I wondered if I did indeed have what it takes to pursue this difficult road.
While I watched the fireworks that brightened the sky in John the Baptist’s honor, I thought about this conversation, and I felt a tremendous amount of pressure regarding a future I was always certain about. But, I also thought about how happy the pursuit of art, culture and scholarship makes me…and not for a second did I think that this was something worth sacrificing due to fear. I had much to think of, but I refused to discourage myself from something so dear to my heart. After all, that was the reason I was in Florence watching these fireworks.