Sixteenth-century French diplomat Michel Eyquem de Montaigne’s motto was “Que sçay-je?” which translates to “What do I know?” In his name, the Shimer Great Books School at North Central College gives students the chance to share answers to that question and not leave it a rhetorical one.
The Shimer School offers the Montaigne Event and Scholarship to prospective college students as a way to engage them in what Shimerians call the “great conversation.” Students are asked to read an essay by Montaigne, write and submit an original response in advance, and then participate in a seminar discussion with Shimer students and peers.
Based on the quality of students’ essays and their contributions to discussion, faculty members select winners to receive an annual scholarship of up to $5,000.
This process of close reading, analytical writing and deep discussion provides a glimpse into a Shimer Great Books School class. Shimer student and Montaigne Scholarship recipient Sophie Juhlin ’19 recalled getting swept up in the experience.
"The Montaigne Scholarship served a dual purpose for me—it was a crash course in the mechanics of a Shimer discussion, and a chance to get to know my future classmates in their natural habitat,” said Juhlin. “It was really on the day of Montaigne that I fell in love with Shimer.”
The scholarship takes Montaigne as its namesake due largely to his having been credited with inventing the modern personal “essay,” a form of expression that every Shimer student uses extensively. Montaigne was known as a skeptic who took little for granted and sought understanding of both himself and the world around him.
Shimer students learn to make informed arguments and stand behind them while carefully considering the opinions of others. That is what makes their discussions exciting, and the Montaigne event is a first taste of what prospective students can expect.
“It’s such an invigorating challenge to describe and defend your interpretation of a text,” Juhlin said. “Like any good Shimer discussion, your understanding lies somewhere between yourself, what you read and the people you share it with."
The scholarship events are free to enter and open to any prospective student interested in the Shimer Great Books School. Montaigne event days will be held on Saturday, Nov. 17 from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and Monday, Jan. 21 from 1:00 to 3:30 p.m. The program includes the essay discussions as well as information about the Shimer School and its programs provided by faculty and past recipients of the Montaigne Scholarship.
For details on registration and how to submit your essay, visit northcentralcollege.edu/shimer-great-books-school/montaigne-event-and-scholarship. For more information, email Stuart Patterson, visiting associate professor and chairperson of the Shimer Great Books School, at firstname.lastname@example.org.