Brette Ragland: Sleepless in Strasberg

Friday, May 24, 2013
This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2013

I am proud to say that I have pulled all-nighters during college. More than one. In fact, I’m probably approaching triple digits. But unlike the traditional SciLi or Rock late-night study sessions, my all-nighters have been spent in the theater.

Instead of combing through stacks at the library at 3 a.m., I was on a 20-foot ladder hanging lights on the grid, I was on my hands and knees painting the underside of a set, I was trying to decipher the hilariously outdated technical equipment in the booth of the Strasberg Studio.

Anyone intimately involved in theater at Brown understands that shows often take precedence over schoolwork. And if there is one thing I’ve learned from doing theater, it’s that the old adage “The show must go on” is actually followed by “at the expense of everything else in your life.”

Now, I’m sure my mother would be disappointed to hear that I spent so much time (blood, sweat, tears, etc.) on something that gave me no course credit, no letters of recommendation and no experience in anything I plan to pursue after college. But I can honestly say that I have learned more from being holed up in a theater from the hours of 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. than I have from most of my classes. I say this not to disparage learning at Brown, but rather to praise it. I came to Brown because I wanted to immerse myself in whichever topics or questions interested me most. And that’s exactly what I’ve done. Brown is often lauded for its open curriculum and the freedom that it gives students to direct their own educational pursuits. But for me, the New Curriculum is more than just the ability to take whichever class I want. It’s the freedom to dedicate myself to whatever learning opportunity — be it academic or otherwise — that I find compelling.

When it’s 7 a.m. and I’m walking out of a dark theater, I feel a thousand different things: exhausted, irritable, nauseous. But most importantly, I feel proud. I’ve realized that my willingness to stay up all night directly correlates to how much I love what I’m doing. That’s why I’m confident that my coffee- and Red Bull-fueled college all-nighters will not be my last. Yet somehow I can’t imagine anything being as beautiful or gratifying as watching the sun rise over Brown’s campus, or anything as deliciously satisfying as 5 a.m. pancakes from Loui’s.

Brette Ragland will be catching up on sleep for most of the summer before teaching in Bangladesh for a year.