Serena Alagappan

Comparative Literature, Class of 2020

I’m a Comparative Literature major with certificates in European Cultural Studies and Creative Writing.

Role(s) held in the Humanistic Studies Program:

Behrman Society

Activities on campus:

Managing Editor of The Nassau Weekly, President of the Princeton University American Sign Language Club

Why I decided to study the humanities:

I remember Professor Nunokawa saying in lecture once that professors in the humanities have a unique challenge—they need to tell their students not only what the words on the page mean, but also why they are important. He proceeded to say this was a beautiful, worthy, and rewarding challenge as a professor. This comment reminded me of a passage I read in Tobias Wolff’s Old School. The main character ponders why English teachers “command such deference,” and he settles on: “It seemed to me…that they knew exactly what it was most worth knowing…Adept as they were at dissection, they would never leave a poem or novel strewn about in pieces like some butchered frog reeking of formaldehyde. They’d stitch it back together with history and psychology, philosophy, religion, and even, on occasion, science…they made you feel that what mattered to the writer had consequence for you, too.” I decided to study the humanities because I want to engage in this sacred practice of dissecting literature and weaving it back together with an interdisciplinary approach.

What I have gained from the humanities:

I have always believed that studying literature is, in many ways, a moral education— reading as an act of empathy, considering characters and their motivations, sharing in their sorrows and celebrating their joys. I also love meeting other students and professors who invest themselves, not only academically, but also emotionally, in the souls of the books they read.

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