Students in class

Shimer’s Unique College Program Taught Me to Learn Through Listening

Jan 15, 2019

I heard about the Montaigne Scholarship from the Shimer Great Books School admissions team. As I was applying, they told me about the opportunity to compete. Participating in the competition was one of the best opportunities of my life. The scholarship made Shimer so much more affordable for me, and it introduced me to my fiancée, the love of my life. Not only that, it also gave me a taste of the unique Shimer experience unlike anything I could get by sitting in on classes or taking a campus tour.

To compete for the scholarship, we read one of the works by the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne who popularized the personal essay. We were given a set amount of time to write an essay in response to the Montaigne piece, and were then broken into groups to discuss what we’d read. However, what really sticks in my mind about the competition isn’t so much the essay portion or the discussion portion, but the part I don’t hear described often. After we’d all written our essays and before we discussed the piece, our facilitator had us go around the room and briefly describe what we’d written.

If there was one single moment that made me realize Shimers unique college program was the right one for me, this was it. I don’t even remember my thesis; I was too busy worrying about coherence and completion to consider profundity in the time allotted. But I remember how it felt hearing others’ arguments and ideas—some I hadn’t even considered when reading Montaigne’s work.

For me, that’s what makes a Shimer Great Books education so unique and great. We all came to that text as very different individuals, with different pasts and different perspectives. What we got from the text inevitably varied, but by listening to one another, our perspective on the text was expanded.

That is what Shimer strives to be. The motto “great books, great discussions” doesn’t quite capture the importance of listening in Shimer’s pedagogy. It isn’t about having the best ideas or making the best points. It’s about the growth that can only come from hearing what your classmates have to say—and giving their perspectives the same weight as your own.

Henry Barrett, Shimer Student

—Henry Barrett ’19, Shimer Great Books School in Humanities


For more information on the Montaigne Scholarship, visit