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Thursday, December 3, 2009

What did you learn today?


The thing I miss most about school is learning. Whether it was material to be applied directly in class like video editing, or more abstract knowledge about the history of British art, I always enjoyed learning new concepts.

One of the benefits of a big university was the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom through lectures and workshops. During the course of my four years at Maryland, I heard a variety of fascinating speakers including journalist Thomas Friedman, political gurus James Carville and Mary Matalin, and documentarian Morgan Spurlock, all for free or minimal cost.

Can you tell I was a journalism and politics major?!

Graduate school interests me solely because I miss this daily chance to learn more -- but I'd rather learn for the sake of learning than to earn another degree. Having a double major didn't give me the chance to take as many "fun" classes as I might have wished but I definitely managed to take a few fantastic ones.

Thankfully, there are plenty of opportunities to keep learning outside of school. National Geographic, based here in Washington, offers lectures, concerts, exhibits and films throughout the year and often brings big-name speakers to its intimate, 400-seat hall.

Last night, I had the chance to hear a lecture by paleontologist Donald Johanson, most famous for his discovery of Lucy, the 3.2-million-year-old fossil providing a link between apes and humans and, until recently, the oldest-known human ancestor.


(Interestingly, Lucy was named for The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," which was playing on the radio as Johanson discussed the find with his team.)

Johanson was an engaging speaker who managed to break down technical, scientific information into easy-to-understand nuggets. He went from the big picture and Darwin to the minute details on how fossils are aged and how to determine the sex of a fossil.

The painstaking work of paleontologists, archaeologists and others researchers in Africa has redefined what it means to be "human" and provides a window into the past. I can only imagine the exhilarating feel of walking through the Rift Valley, knowing you're walking in the footsteps of our ancestors millions of years ago.

Johanson saved his most moving, passionate argument for the end, saying that no matter what we look like, what language we speak or what our defined nationality is, we're all African. There is no doubt that every person on Earth descends from a common ancestor and maybe in remembering that, we can find peace.


What did you learn today?

2 comments:

  1. We were both at National Geographic last night! I went to see the Terracotta Warriers. It was amazing (and free on Wednesday nights)!

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  2. Have you checked out iTunesU? I thnk you'd find plenty of podcasts there to satisfy your desire to learn new things!

    ReplyDelete