Becker College First Year Students Win Essay Contest

Published on Friday, August 30th, 2013

First year students at Becker College began their academic work early. In the first week of classes, the College’s First Year Experience program announced the winner of its summer reading essay contest, Brigette Hillman.

Hillman developed the theory that inaction has as much impact as action as it related to the award-winning coming-of-age novel, Looking for Alaska by John Green. She also integrated into the essay her own experience on a service trip to Thailand by interviewing her program director.

Five other outstanding first-year writers were recognized with honorable mentions: Deckard Barnes, Jessica Delin, Tyler Newsome, Lauren Robinson, and Nicole Townsend.

Looking for Alaska: Writing Contest

by Brigette Hillman

The novel Looking for Alaska by John Green tells the story of “Pudge”, a teenage boy who goes off to boarding school in search of “the great perhaps” and finds himself changed by his friendships there. One important theme in Looking for Alaska is that inaction can have just as much impact as action. Alaska, a classmate of Pudge’s and the object of his affection, exemplifies this theme when she tells the story about her mother dying when she was young. Her mother had an aneurism. Alaska thought that she had just fallen asleep so she did not call 911. When her father came home he became upset with her, and Alaska believes that her father blames her for her mother’s death because she failed to act. These actions early in her life case her to be impulsive and act without thinking or caring about the consequences of her actions.

Pudge also illustrates the theme that inactions can have just as much impact as actions. Before coming to boarding school, he has chosen to shut off and live a quiet existence within himself because it seems easier than dealing with the consequences of close friendships and interpersonal actions. But then he is inspired to go to boarding school and change his life by the idea of “the great perhaps”, which is a concept he’s picked up from memorizing and contemplating the last words of famous people. He feels that it is his chance to escape. In the end, Pudge decides that it is important to continue to try instead of just to give up and escape. There’s struggle, but there’s also free will, and we are more than the sum of our parts. Our relationships and actions, the things we do, make us more than what we would otherwise be. They have value. Pudge comes to this revelation through his new friendships and connections, but mostly through his efforts to cope with the death of Alaska, the girl he loved.

Perhaps the strongest example in the book of the concept that inactions can have just as much impact as actions takes place when Alaska dies after crashing her car into a police car after a night of heavy drinking. It is later discovered that the accident took place the day after the anniversary of her mother’s death, and she was panicked about forgetting to visit her mother’s grave. Her friends fell guilty for not stopping her from driving. Their failure to stop her had the same result as them letting her go, and they are flooded with regret. When they strive to find out exactly what happened, whether she committed suicide or not, Pudge comes to realize that it doesn’t matter. Whether she tried to kill herself or just didn’t act to stop herself from dying, by failing to swerve the car, she is still gone. There are always consequences, whether to action or to inaction. The two are ultimately the same.

From personal experience, I can say that I’ve learned the hard way that not acting can have just as much as an impact as acting. On a summer volunteer program in Thailand, I was told to keep hydrated and eat more than I would on a normal day in the States due to the heat and extra activity. During the first week In Thailand while volunteering with the dog rescue I drank about the same amount of water that I drink back home in the States. I felt fine the entire first week in the heat. On Saturday I ate the same amount that I had been eating for breakfast. I was excited to go see and play with the tiger cubs at the sanctuary. I did not bring a water bottle with me like I had every day the week before. It had to have been one of the hottest days so far. I sweat a lot and had a few sips of other people’s water and about two glasses with lunch. I did not think of drinking water nor did I think about what would happen without water; I just went along with all the activities that were planned for that hot day. I was dehydrated all day but I did not act on the signs of it or even notice them. By late afternoon the amount of energy exerted in the heat and the dehydration my body was experiencing met. My body became weak. I was brought to the hospital to be rehydrated, and was unable to open my eyes or speak for five hours. Due to this I was not able to take part in the rest of the day’s fun and exciting activities. Since my body was so weak it also reacted to every allergen in the air and made it difficult for me to breathe. This made my body even weaker and would require more time to recover. Although I did not try to miss out on the following week’s activities, I ended up missing out because I did not actively try to stay healthy and drink enough water. I could have given up and not tried as much to get well fast after learning that I would not be allowed to participate in the following week’s activity’s, but I didn’t. Although tremendously disappointed I still chose to push through and deal with the consequences of not acting. Just as Pudge learned, I learned that it is important to just try and keep going when it gets tough. I’ve learned from the experience and I know that is something that I have to actively take action on next time.

I interviewed my Program Director Jane in Thailand about the idea that inaction is the same as action. She said that her grandmother often says, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” If you aren’t objecting to what is happening, you are giving your consent and participating in it. As someone who travels a lot and doesn’t have a traditional nine-to-five job, Jane often has people tell her that they wish they could do that. “It’s frustrating,” she said, “because most of them could do that. But they don’t realize that they’re choosing not to. Choosing not to leave the conventional path before you is the same as choosing to stay on it.” Her idea is that we rely on saying that we “have” to do things because it makes us feel like those things are not choices, and that makes us feel comforted because we do not have to face any concepts of regret or question our choices. But, in reality, there are very few things that most of us “have” to do. By examining the choices you make and being honest about which things are choices and why they are being made, we can greatly reduce our regrets and live lives of purpose. She agrees with Pudge’s conclusion that life is worth the struggle, and that the connections to others and the actions you take create who you are and the life you have. “While it’s easy to be strangled into inaction by regrets, you cannot go backwards.” This sentence sums up the theme of inaction as action, and reflects on both Alaska’s and Pudge’s interpretation of life. While Alaska was indeed trapped by regrets, Pudge chooses to stay in the labyrinth, to keep going forwards.

Jeannette Walls’ narrative The Glass Castle shares the common theme that inactions are just as consequential as actions. In the autobiographical novel of her childhood, Walls tells of her parents’ harebrained schemes and selfish parenting in a way that shows them sympathy and warmth. Walls’ parents did not know how to care for their kids, and therefore do not act on the childrens’ needs. This leads them to constantly be running from town to town and leaving the kids to care for themselves in dangerous situations. At some points, she and her siblings go days without eating because their parents refuse to compromise their freedom to meet their responsibilities. By the parents’ refusing to take the responsible, necessary actions, they end up choosing inaction, which has the same consequences as actively abusing their children.

In both Looking for Alaska and The Glass Castle, inactions still have results. Taking action and failing to act are ultimately both choices, both of which lead to results. Irresponsibility is just a choice not to do responsible things, but that still makes it a choice. In both texts, seeing that irresponsibility and failure to make good choices in others causes those who think about it, Pudge and Walls, to work hard and choose a different path for themselves, even in the face of adversity. In my personal experience and that of my interview subject, it is clear that we can learn from our failures to act. Inaction can be just as dangerous as action. And if we are in charge of our destinies, we must consider each choice we make.