Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Briana Pagano ’18

East Marion, New York • English View Profile

The Pursuit of Passion

Lessons from a lecture hall

Last spring, midway through the second lecture of an introductory molecular biology course, I found myself fighting in vain to stifle a smile.

No, I had not just been struck by the sudden revelation that my life’s purpose was to don a lab coat and map genomes (as an English major, the only lab you’ll ever find me mapping my way back to is that of a man named Victor Frankenstein). In all honesty, I hadn’t anticipated enjoying MOL 101. Yet here I was, grinning from ear to ear—all thanks to the passion that filled the stage before me.

There, in front of a class of 50 students, was my professor—white mustache wiggling, eyes gleaming behind his glasses—literally bouncing in his soles while describing the function of DNA ligase.

Later that night, I typed my professor’s name into Google’s search bar. A snippet from Wikipedia immediately appeared in the screen’s upper right-hand corner, presenting a life condensed into a 2.5 x 5 inch box.

He is almost 70 years old.

He is a Nobel Laureate.

And yet, after 15 years of teaching introductory molecular biology, he still gets giddy when introducing enzymes to a room full of college students. In that moment, I told myself with absolute certainty: If I’m anything like him when I’m older, I’ll have done something right.

I love watching people fall in love with education. Hearing a chemistry concentrator describe protein crystallization as “art” and a dancer call ballet her “science.” Catching children staying up late to read “just one more chapter” by flashlight. Watching strangers pore over books on every topic from Faraday to crème brûlée, Mozart to modern art, Alaskan fly-fishing to Musca domestica, your common housefly.

As someone who has always had a case of unshakeable curiosity, there is nothing better than greeting a new day with the knowledge that I will learn something—anything—new before sundown. Waking up is easy when you’re eager to get out and discover more about the earth beneath your feet. I would never exchange this gift of education.

I love the shoes I’m in.